Background/Context: Responding to the challenges of the demographic imperative and calls for greater program coherence, social justice teacher education programs aim to integrate social justice in the professional preparation of teachers. Such programs intend to improve the preparation of teachers to teach students from diverse backgrounds, and in doing so they strive to keep the moral and ethical purposes of teaching and schooling at the center of teachers’ preparation.
Purpose/Object/Research Questions: This study examines two social justice teacher education programs to explore teacher educators’ conceptions of social justice and the conditions that appear to support their joint enterprise.
Research Design: Findings presented are based on a year-long qualitative case study. Data sources include interviews with teacher education faculty and a review of program and course documents.
Findings: Grounded in communities of practice theory and a theory of social justice, I found that faculty conceptions of justice varied from an emphasis on meeting the needs of individuals to a concern with broader structural inequities. The mutual engagement of faculty appeared to be supported by external resources that provided structure and expertise, the selection of faculty with commitments to social justice and collaboration, and formal and informal opportunities to collaborate.
Conclusions/Recommendations: This study has implications for both practice and research in teacher education. In terms of practice, this study suggests that social justice teacher education relies on more than the efforts of individual teacher educators. Teacher education programs aiming to integrate social justice may benefit from implementing structures that enable faculty to work together in both defining and enacting such a vision of teaching and learning. The dimensions of social justice articulated by Mills and SJSU faculty offer teacher educators with a way of conceptualizing justice that attends to a core concept in the field—the goal of attending to individual student’s needs—and to a less common concept of justice as tied to alleviating oppression.
In terms of research, the emerging area of social justice teacher education is in need of systematic studies designed to introduce changes such as those described in this article into extant programs aiming to address social justice in the professional preparation of prospective teachers. Such studies could explore the actual practices of teacher educators engaged in such efforts as well as the impact of such efforts on prospective teachers’ knowledge and practices with students from diverse backgrounds.