Culturally aware but not yet ready to teach the “others”: Reflections on a Roma education teacher training programme
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Purpose: In this paper, the authors focus on a professional development programme in Cyprus aiming to enhance teachers’ intercultural understanding, awareness and competencies. This paper aims to focus on trainers’ and teacher trainees’ reflections upon a teacher professional development programme in the primary school in Cyprus with the largest number of Roma children. Design/methodology/approach: The training was provided by a small team of six trainers. Immediately after each training session, each trainer participated in an interview, while three of the trainers participated also in a focus-group interview at the end of the training. The trainers’ data were complemented by semi-structured interviews with a number of trainees either before or after the training. All interviews were transcribed, while interview questions comprised the framework for the qualitative analysis. The findings are presented by means of content analysis which formed the basis for emerging themes. Findings: The authors claim that trainee teachers appeared culturally aware and sensitive, as well as knowledgeable about intercultural education; furthermore, they seemed to implement different teaching methodologies and curriculum interventions to support Roma children’s inclusion in the local school community. At the same time, they seemed to adopt instrumental approaches towards the content and purpose of the programme, seeking explicit instructional guidelines, plans and heuristics to deal with Roma inclusion. Considering the mis-recognition of teachers’ efforts by stakeholders outside the school and the expectations of the educational authorities – voiced via their school inspectors – teachers desperately asserted the need for tangible strategies to help them cope with difference in their classrooms. Research limitations/implications: The authors argue that such professional development programmes should aim at facing, deconstructing and bringing to the fore prejudices and discrimination against the Other/s by valuing teachers, first, as reflective individuals and, second, as professionals with their own cultural backgrounds and identities, on which any training programme, of the kind presented in this paper, could start from and build on. Practical implications: Even though there is no tailored magic recipe to make teachers’ daily professional enterprise in multicultural settings easy, to help teachers master the necessary knowledge, skills and confidence, the authors suggest that training should be directly linked to classroom practice and acknowledge stress and helplessness that accompany work in multicultural school settings. Social implications: The inclusion strategy in many educational systems needs to become more comprehensive to cope with varying sources of social exclusion, faced by vulnerable groups of a different cultural background, such as Roma. Teacher training thus needs to meet the challenges of working in a diverse and multicultural environment in general and with Roma children in particular. In view of the multicultural character of local societies, a more critically oriented humanistic education is needed based on tolerance and understanding. Originality/value: The limited participation of Roma in the school system could be related to teachers’ (mis)conceptions about the Roma culture and that the widely different ways in which Roma relate to schooling are often disregarded by the school.