STATE OF OPPORTUNITY. Can Kids in Michigan Get Ahead?
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This special reporting project wrapped up in May 2017. Read more.

U of M program teaches future teachers to embrace diversity

Jennifer Guerra
Michigan Radio

Classrooms are becoming more diverse, with Black and Latino students filling up more seats than ever before.  But across the country, for the most part, teachers are still white, middle class and female. So how do teachers navigate that divide?

Welcome to The Rounds Project at the University of Michigan. It officially began in 2008 and is required for all undergrad students who want to be future high school teachers. The teachers-to-be are called “interns” and they go on “rotations” – a lot like medical school training.

Patrick Tierney is an undergrad at the University of Michigan, getting his bachelor’s in education. We caught up with him on one of his rounds at the Detroit Institute of Technology at Cody High School, where nearly all the students are African American. Tierney, who's white, says "for the most part if I had just been told that I was going to student teach in a Detroit school, I would have all these expectations coming in about the kinds of students they are, the kinds of resources, the kinds of people, the neighborhood involved."

Tierney says he was able to check his expectations at the door thanks in large part to the Rounds Project.

The interns rotate between urban, suburban and rural schools, and learn specific skills to work with students in each type of classroom. Like how to teach literary to a child who’s not a Native English speaker, or how to get a student to care about school when all they see around them is blight and little opportunity. And there’s always an expert teacher at the head of the class coaching them along the way and providing feedback.

Hundreds of future teachers have gone through Rounds. For current intern Elle Neustadt, her rotation at Cody High School in Detroit has been eye-opening.

"In my own education," explains Neustadt, "I didn’t grow up with many minorities at all, and so the first time I came into Cody I’m walking in here and I’m like I don’t know what this is about, I don’t know anything about these students and I don’t know what to expect other than my own assumptions, and I’d already been in my multi-cultural education class to know that my assumptions aren’t necessarily fair."

That's the real challenge future teachers face. Figuring out how to translate what they read in a book in a multi-cultural education class and apply it in the classroom.

Deborah Ballis dean of U of M’s School of Education. She says in Michigan, most teacher education programs have a multicultural component of some kind. But by and large those involve a lecture and a textbook, no real life interactions.

She says that gap – between learning about diversity and culture and facing it head on in the classroom – is an important one to fill, and one that nobody has quite figured out how to do successfully. But she believes the Rounds Project is a very good first step.

Jennifer is a reporter with Michigan Radio's State of Opportunity project. She previously covered arts and culture for the station, and worked as a producer for WFUV in the Bronx.
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