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Finding Freedom in Dialectic Inquiry: New Teachers’ Responses to Silencing


by Deborah Bieler & Anne Burns Thomas — 2009

Background: The need to support new teachers in urban public schools is well established, given current shortages and research that highlights serious issues with teacher retention. Debate continues about approaches to support for new teachers, including questions about the importance of developing an inquiry stance toward teaching. As more teacher preparation and professional development programs adopt inquiry-based methods, the theory and practice of these approaches deserve close analysis. Examining the ways in which inquiry-based programs strengthen or constrain new teacher agency is an important step in understanding the relationship between teacher retention and the deprofessionalization of teaching.

Focus of Study: This article describes two groups of new teachers who experienced the inquiry-based programs of support in which they participated as silencing and uncritical. The authors argue that even in the best-intentioned programs, inquiry can become a fixed method in which the new teachers’ voice and agency are lost. In each study, the new teachers worked to reclaim voice and agency through dialectic inquiry, which the authors characterize as local, self-reflexive, and able to embrace the tensions that mark many teaching situations.

Research Design: This article draws on two yearlong practitioner research studies conducted with new teachers who were participating in structures intended to support their development as critical, reflective practitioners.

Recommendations: Given the nature of teaching as a profession, the authors argue that dialectic inquiry can help new teachers develop important attributes of agency and critique. The authors advocate for inquiry-based teacher development programs that remain flexible and reflective and are able to support new teachers in a profession that can be silencing.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 111 Number 4, 2009, p. 1030-1064
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15230, Date Accessed: 10/20/2017 9:19:11 PM

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About the Author
  • Deborah Bieler
    University of Delaware
    E-mail Author
    DEBORAH BIELER is an assistant professor of English and the coordinator of English Education field placements at the University of Delaware. In her research and teaching, she aspires to support new teachers as they develop their agency and engage together in activist, transformative practice, particularly with underserved student populations. Her current projects explore the roles of dialogue in student teacher/teacher educator relationships, the attunement to issues of difference in teacher preparation programs, and the professional experiences of new teachers who are committed to social justice. One recent publication is “Changing the Subject: Building Critical and Compassionate Communities in English and English Education Classrooms” (Perspectives on Urban Education, Vol. 4, Issue 1), available at http://www.urbanedjournal.org/articles/article0024.html.
  • Anne Burns Thomas
    SUNY College at Cortland
    ANNE BURNS THOMAS is an assistant professor in the Foundations and Social Advocacy Department in the School of Education at SUNY College at Cortland. Additionally, she is the coordinator of Cortland’s Urban Recruitment of Educators (C.U.R.E) program, a comprehensive program in urban education to prepare qualified teachers for the challenges of working in high-need urban schools in New York state. A former middle school English teacher in Philadelphia, her research interests include the nature of support for new teachers in urban schools, alternative certification programs, and teacher research. One recent publication is “Envisioning Elementary Literacy Methods Courses: Learning to Teach From Multimedia Images of Practice” with Katherine Schultz, available at http://gallery.carnegiefoundation.org/insideteaching/quest/anne_burns-thomas_&_katherine_schultz.html.
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