Teaching in a Multicultural Classroom

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Title

International Handbook of Research on Teachers and Teaching


Schools across the US continue to diversify, making multicultural classrooms more of the norm than the exception. Children of color comprised 43% of the public school enrollment in 2004 (National Center for Education Statistics, 2006a). By 2020, it is estimated that students of color will make up half the student population (Weis-man & Garza, 2002). The number of English language learners also continues to grow, representing 19% of public school students in 2004. This gain reflects a 162% increase in students who speak languages other than English at home over the last 25 years (National Center for Education Statistics, 2006a). While widely believed to be an issue confined to urban schools, changing demographics impact schooling across the US. In 2004, students of color made up 23.6% of the public K-12 enrollment in Kansas; in 2005, 23% of students in Minneapolis public schools were English language learners (National Center for Education Statistics, 2004–2005, 2006b). While the US will serve as the focus for this chapter, immigration continues to impact schools around the world. Canada enrolls 40,000 new immigrant students in its public schools each year; 80% do not speak English (Strum & Biette, 2005). European schools also serve students from a variety of language, cultural and religious backgrounds. For example, ~5 million Muslims live in France (Judge, 2004). Issues around culture, identity, and patriotism recently came to a boiling point regarding the wearing of head scarves by Muslim girls in French schools. French law consequently banned pupils in public schools from wearing any conspicuous sign of religious affiliation (Judge, 2004). This example illuminates the “realness” of cultural clashes in school. Regardless of place, teachers find themselves charged with educating children from diverse backgrounds. How can teachers be responsive to this need?