Promoting Tolerance in Preservice Teachers

Judith A. Swearingen

Our society is fractured by violence, racial prejudice and intolerance, and religious and gender bias. As teachers in an urban state college that draws students who were born in more than eighty different countries, my colleagues and I have been especially concerned with addressing these and other problems of intolerance. One of our objectives in methods classes has been to train student teachers to recognize and address problems of intolerance among themselves and others, so that they will be better able to promote tolerance in the classroom.
My students design and teach a unit on tolerance in my sixteen-week semester methods course, based on the principles of reflective practice, for students who are seeking secondary social studies certification. In the past four years, this course has been one of a set of four subject-specific methods courses taught, in which the individual subject groups-English, math and science, modern languages and social studies-come together once a week in a larger general methods course. This general methods course is team-taught under the direction of a colleague of mine. In this larger class, all of the secondary students work together, and one of the major class requirements is that all of the students prepare, teach, and evaluate videotaped lessons.

The objective of the social studies methods course is to prepare the social studies secondary students to teach lessons to the larger group, using a wide variety of methods while addressing the very broad range of social studies content. In both the social studies and the larger methods class, a special effort is made to ensure an enhanced class

atmosphere that encourages the open discussion of ideas and responses to issues raised in the class. An obvious strength of the class is the sense of support for personal and interpersonal growth and awareness that develops for students and professors alike.

The Need for Tolerance
Because of the comfort zone that has been so carefully crafted and encouraged, the students say things that would be less likely to be said in other college classes. We were alarmed to find that this comfortable situation also allowed statements to surface that were homophobic, racist, and sexist. Of particular pedagogical concern was the fact that the students will most likely teach in urban settings and deal with many members of minority groups. As teachers, our students will serve as role models in urban schools, and need to recognize and assume the responsibilities of professional role models.
My colleague and I had many discussions regarding ways to effectively deal with the problem of intolerance among our students. Morally these problems cannot be ignored, but to confront the students too strongly could block communication with them, encouraging them to keep quiet, and leave their attitudes unaddressed. Although one option would have been to assign students research papers to address the issues on an intellectual level, I wanted to reach them on a positive emotional level, encourage thoughtful reflection and hopefully effect behavioral change. After considerable reflection, I decided to take full advantage of our empathetic atmosphere, and address the issue through our social studies methods class curriculum.

Tolerance Lessons
During the sixteen weeks, the social studies students had to plan, prepare, and teach a unit on a controversial topic involving the issues of tolerance and intolerance. They were given choices of subjects that ranged from racial and religious prejudice to sexual and gender bias. Their assignment was to teach two lessons to the larger group of their classmates in the general methods class. The first lesson was to be team-taught with a partner. The other lesson was individually taught. In both instances, their intended audience consisted of future teachers in a variety of subject fields who would have to know how to deal with issues of tolerance in their own classrooms. Lectures were not allowed. The methods they could choose to employ included cooperative learning, inquiry, simulations, jackdaws, documents, and sociodrama. In all cases, the students had to organize instructional conversations.
In the class, students brought in a videotape to record their lesson. All students took turns at operating the camera. The tapes of the lesson remained the students' personal property. Students viewed their tapes in private and then reflected on the content and processes of their lessons in their journals.

In the class, everyone served as an evaluator and filled in a semistructured critique, which was shared with the student presenter. A very open atmosphere resulted from the students having their peers address the issues, using the professors as facilitators, utilizing the format of instructional conversations, giving choices, and carefully targeting the issues in a way that is relevant to their future classrooms. At no time has a dialogue been abruptly terminated, and nobody has ever been reprimanded for expressing a point of view. The concerns of students have been addressed individually whenever students have taken the initiative of self-expression. This process has proved threatening to some students. One student asked not to be supervised, feeling threatened by our openness. Another supervisory arrangement has been made for this student.

It was evident in their lessons that many of the students heard and heeded many important messages.

The open atmosphere encouraged people to be frank, and emotions ran high at times, but the way the issues were discussed was not as threatening to participants as some had feared. What was most disconcerting to the students, as the course progressed, was the change in the way they saw themselves. Initially, they considered themselves fairly liberal, open minded, and in favor of justice. During the lessons, however, these perceptions were put to a test and reexamined. Many of the students, reporting this process in their journals, were clearly troubled by their discoveries. Their soul-searching reflections on needed changes in their thought and behavior are to be found in subsequent journal entries. Most students also defined their own needs for improvement, clarity, understanding, and action, and asked the professors for more input into teaching tolerance. As a result of the lessons, another professor was asked to come in and address gender equity in teaching mathematics.

The students from the secondary methods class are now in student teaching, and all of the methods professors are their supervisors. It is clear to us that the lessons on tolerance have had an influence. One of my students who was initially adamant that he had no problems with the issue of gender equality later carefully addressed the issue of gender in his cooperative learning lessons. After observing how adolescents assumed certain gender roles, he designed his lesson so that the females and males each took the role of recorder (secretary), leader, and reporter.

Our students also meet in a weekly seminar to discuss their student teaching experiences. In this forum, these same issues are examined, experienced, and addressed. The preservice teachers' meeting in a concurrent student teaching seminar frequently refers to the increased awareness that the preservice teachers now have regarding tolerance. They cite incidents from their classrooms and describe how they now see the need to effect change in themselves and others. That the class has made an impact is obvious in the reflective journals of the students, where they report rethinking methods, procedures, and materials.

In summary, the effectiveness of the lesson seems to have been due to a combination of four factors: (1) the strong faculty commitment to teaching tolerance, (2) an open classroom atmosphere that encourages the free exchange of views, (3) the use of methods that engage students actively in the critique of intolerance and search for tolerance, and (4) the importance attached to the use of reflective journals by students to record their thoughts and then express them in classroom discussion. Most importantly, a paradigm shift has occurred. The students now see themselves as professional role models with a mission to promote tolerance. Recognizing that this was but a beginning, we plan to further develop the course with additional materials and experiences that will encourage reflection and further promote tolerance.

Further Recommendations for Promoting Tolerance
There are many ways in which teacher education programs can promote tolerance.
1. Curriculum classes can assign collaborative projects that call for the design of thematic integrated curriculums. The theme of tolerance/conflict resolution can be used.

2. Field experience supervisors and cooperating teachers can effectively engage in dialogue on tolerance issues with the preservice teachers, examining their rationales for choosing methods and materials. Observations of classroom incidents and the students' videotaped lessons could also be used as starting points for thoughtful discussion.

3. Students can be involved in designing and completing action research projects that examine gender equity, racism, and intolerance as part of their field experience observations. Care must be taken that names of teachers, students, and schools are not used.

4. Instructional conversations can be held on the topic, with the professor encouraging students to relate how they have experienced problems with intolerance and how they might effectively deal with the problem as professionals.

5. Dialogue journals focusing on assigned readings from multicultural literature can be kept by students and responded to by professors.

6. Reflective developmental portfolios can be used in which the preservice teacher evaluates the issues raised by the course and uses metacognition to examine what he/she learned or did not learn from the program.

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Judith Swearingen, a 1987 Keizai Koho Center participant, is an Assistant Professor in the Administration, Curriculum, and Instruction Department in the School of Professional Studies at Jersey City State College, Jersey City, New Jersey ( The author wishes to express her deep appreciation for the influence of her former teacher, the late Prof. Ernest Dorow of the University of Pittsburgh, who was a wonderful model of tolerance for all of his social studies students.