General Characteristics of Prospective Teachers
The consideration of the general characteristics of prospective teachers will feature the typical demographic profile of teacher education candidates and the general orientations held by prospective teachers.
Teacher education candidates in the United States are predominantly women who are of Euro-American dissent, from the middle class, and, from rural or suburban communities (Brookhart & Freeman, 1992; Feiman-Nemser & Remillard, 1995, 1996; Fuller, 1992; Howey & Zimpher, 1996; McCall, 1995; NCES, 2008b; Zimpher, 1989). The general demographic profile encompasses several dimensions including gender, ethnicity and locality. With regard to gender, 93 percent of elementary majors and 75 percent of secondary majors are reported to be women (Feiman-Nemser & Remillard, 1995, 1996). The prevalence of women is congruent with Brookhart and Freeman's (1992) aggregate of teacher education candidate studies. The prevalence of women is also evident in the current demographic profile of teachers which indicates that 75 percent of public school teachers were women in the 1999-2000 school year (NCES, 2008b). In addition to gender, the portrait of prospective teachers includes the dimensions of ethnicity and locality. Over half have grown up in suburban or rural communities and 93 percent are Caucasian (Feiman-Nemser & Remillard; Zimpher, 1989).
The general demographic profile is perhaps best viewed via a cautious lens in terms of generalizability. Brookhart and Freeman (1992), in an aggregate of 44 entering teacher candidate education studies, made "tentative generalizations" which were "...guided by the principle of thematic consistency with empirical variability" (p. 39). In other words, if the themes were similar across studies in spite of noteworthy differences across the universities, the findings were cast as tentative generalizations since the vast majority of the reviewed studies (i.e., 41 out of 44) were conducted at a single university and not one was from a representative sample of universities. However, the amalgamated portrait of prospective teachers does offer general information about the demographic attributes of this population.
The demographic profile "...highlights domains of experience that could be informative to teacher educators. Three areas seem especially salient: (1) prospective teachers' experiences as women; (2) prospective teachers limited exposure to people who are socially, ethnically, and culturally different from themselves; and (3) prospective teachers' experiences as students" (Feiman-Nemser & Remillard, 1996, p. 68). There is a preponderance of women represented in the prospective teaching force (Brookhart & Freeman, 1992; NCES, 2008b). Indeed, the "research on women's ways of knowing highlights a central challenge for teacher educators - helping intending teachers develop intellectual confidence" (Feiman-Nemser & Remillard, 1996, p. 69).
Prospective teachers, who have a "narrow framework of experience" (Paine, 1989) and an "unrealistic optimism" (Weinstein, 1989; Pajares, 1993), have generally been characterized as being "culturally insular" (Zimpher, 1989; Feiman-Nemser & Remillard, 1996) and as homogenous (Grant & Secada, 1990). Prospective teachers have had a "narrow framework of experience" (Paine, 1989) in that they have had "...limited exposure to people who are socially, ethnically, and culturally different from themselves..." (Feiman-Nemser & Remillard, 1996, p. 68; Feiman-Nemser & Remillard, 1995). Yet, prospective teachers also have an unrealistic optimism, a "...tendency to believe that the problems that plague others won't happen to them" (Weinstein, 1989, p. 57), when it comes to their expectations about teaching.
The expectations and preferences held by prospective teachers may be, in part, attributable to the many years of experience as a student in elementary and secondary schools known as the apprenticeship of observation (Lortie, 1975). This experience impacts prospective teachers' attitudes and conceptions of how to teach (Brookhart & Freeman, 1992; Carter & Doyle, 1995). In addition to having these attitudes, prospective teachers have preferences about their future practice.
Teacher candidates have particular preferences when it comes to their future practice (Zimpher, 1989) as well as may have contradictory beliefs about teaching (Wilson, 1990) and about their future students (Feiman-Nemser & Remillard, 1995). While prospective teachers believe that they ought to treat all students fairly (i.e., the same), they also believe that the uniqueness of each child necessitates an education that is suited to the student's individual needs (Paine, 1989; Feiman-Nemser & Remillard). Prospective teachers are faced with what Lazerson, McLaughlin, McPherson and Bailey (1985) call the "twin challenges" of equality and excellence. Lazerson et al. (1985) purport that "...schools ought to be committed to enhancing equality and promoting excellence...Educational debates should not be about whether the goals are worthwhile, but about how to accomplish them" (p. 113) for each learner. The premise put forth by Lazerson et al. resonates with that of Banks (1993), a proponent of multicultural education, who asserts that each student "should have equal opportunity to learn in school" (p. 3). This notion of "equal opportunity does not mean the same opportunity, but rather an appropriate opportunity" (Clark, 1993, p. 288).
The twin challenges, an inherent predicament of teaching, take on an interesting dimension when teacher education candidates' preferences for future practice are considered. Teacher candidates, according to the data from the national longitudinal examination of teacher education programs in the United States known as the Research About Teacher Education (RATE) studies, have consistently indicated that they "...preferred to teach in traditional classroom settings, with middle income children, of average (not gifted or handicapped) ability" (Zimpher, 1989, p. 30; Howey & Zimpher, 1996).
In sum, prospective teachers, who have a "narrow framework of experience" (Paine, 1989) and "unrealistic optimism" (Weinstein, 1989), have generally been characterized as "culturally insular" (Feiman-Nemser & Remillard, 1996). Teacher education candidates in the United States are predominantly women who are of Euro-American dissent, from the middle class, and from rural or suburban communities (Brookhart & Freeman, 1992; Zimpher, 1989). Teacher candidates, according to the data from the RATE studies, have consistently indicated a preference to teach students of average ability (Howey & Zimpher, 1996). While teacher education candidates may prefer to teach students of average ability, the reality is that there has been an increase in the number of students with special needs who are being educated in the nation's general education classrooms (Arends, 2008; NCES, 2008c; U.S. Department of Education, 1999).