Teaching Teachers About Multiculturalism in Schools | A Graduate Professors Perspective

Interview with Edward Fierros, PhD, Associate Professor in Multiculturalism, Gender and Inclusion in Schools at Villanova University

Edward Fierros, Ph.D., an associate professor at Villanova University (in Villanova, Pennsylvania) teaches courses that explore multiculturalism, gender and inclusion in schools. He also teaches workshops that focus on multiple-intelligence theory and student gender issues. Dr. Fierros gave GradSchools.com some insight into what can be expected from a graduate program in education, as well as into the issues facing the preparation of teachers.

GradSchools: How has the preparation of teachers changed in the past few years?

The focus of education has been influenced greatly by federal policy. We try to respond to state-level requirements while trying to maintain our university mission, and moving toward accountability. There’s no getting away from some local state or national oversight—now it is coming from a federal level. No Child Left Behind, despite its faults, does bring to light certain inequities. We try to use the aspects of the law that we can use to benefit students.

GradSchools: What are your expectations of the students in terms of skills and performance?

Mostly I try to model different ways of teaching, so I expect that students will demonstrate how they would teach their classes in different ways to maximize their ability to reach all students. When teaching teachers, it is important to remind them that the reason we are in this is to meet the needs of students. We start at the students and work backwards.

GradSchools: How do you promote lifelong learning in your classroom?

In the state of Pennsylvania, it is simple to do because all teachers have to take credits during their careers. I try to talk to students about good ways of getting professional experience and to be good shoppers for quality programs. Also, part of the profession of teaching is that you always have to be up-to-date on technology, your content area and be in touch with students.

GradSchools: What are the hot research fields/topics in education?

Response to intervention and meeting the learning needs of students with special needs is a big topic now. Classes associated with meeting needs of students with special needs are so important because the law requires those students to be included in the classroom. Multiculturalism is another major focus—a move toward diversity. Our country’s demographics are changing, while the teaching core is not. You must learn good ways to teach students who are not like yourself. Because we have so many teachers coming back to get their master’s, there is a cross-fertilization of ideas – people learning from each other.

GradSchools: How much of a resource is the Internet and other technology in your field?

It has really changed the way we teach. Technology has allowed me to move away from textbooks and craft the class to what is going on in the research field. The majority of our courses integrate with the Internet, and the majority of my readings are available in PDF format.

GradSchools: How important is foreign language to the field?

It is important where there are growing numbers of immigrant groups, it opens doors and can only help. With the increasing number of Latino students, it is helpful to know Spanish. Foreign language can be critical for teachers, but then we get into the conversation about which ones to learn.

GradSchools: What do you see as the future of graduate education programs?

Successful programs are those that look at educational research, take seriously the demographic changes and think of ways through the courses to pay attention to these changes. I see the introduction of technology into courses that have not had it before. Perhaps we will be looking at some sort of hybrid, with some material done in the classroom and some done online. I definitely see a more practical application of knowledge in the future.

GradSchools: What is the most difficult aspect of the program/field? Most rewarding?

A lot of times we try to incorporate the good ideas of our students into our courses. I am always struck by how students don’t think they can do what’s asked of them. At the end, they reflect back at what they’ve done and they are happy with their work. It’s not about memorizing theories—more about trying to make a change in their class.

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