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The Role of Teacher Educators’ Personal Histories and Motivations in Shaping Opportunities to Learn About Social Justice

by Mike Metz - 2018

Background: As social-justice-focused teacher education programs continue to gain prominence, a wealth of research explores approaches for preparing teachers for social-justice-minded teaching. This study looks closely at a key aspect of teacher education programs frequently absent from the research—the teacher educators (TEs) themselves.

Focus of Study: The study intentionally expands the consideration of TEs’ identities beyond reductive demographic characteristics to explore how the personal histories and motivations of TEs impact teacher candidates’ (TCs’) opportunities to learn about teaching for social justice.

Setting and Participants: The study follows two parallel sections of a single teacher education course taught by two different TEs. Because the TEs taught from the same syllabus, within the context of the same program, the impact of each TE’s instructional choices is revealed.

Research Design: Using a comparative case study design, data sources included field notes, audio recordings of class meetings, course readings and materials, and two interviews with each TE. Audio recordings were transcribed and analyzed following a micro-ethnographic discourse analysis approach. The second interview took place after initial analysis of the data, allowing the TEs to respond to initial findings.

Findings: Although both TEs focused on social justice topics, in alignment with the program goals, their choices of what topics to focus on differed greatly. One TE used the course readings to open up discussions of gender and sexuality, critically examining heteronormative ideals and a dismissive attitude toward adolescent relationships and sexuality. The other TE used the same readings and assignments to create inquiry into complicated issues of racial and ethnic identity with implications for classroom teaching. In each case, the choices by the TEs in how they framed discussions and assignments and what ideas they took up and built on during class interactions shaped the curriculum in unique ways. These instructional choices corresponded to each TE’s own personal experiences and motivations.

Conclusions: The findings suggest that research on teacher education programs must look beyond course syllabi or the structural components of a program to understand the opportunities to learn provided to TCs. Decisions by TEs during classroom instruction shape very different opportunities to learn. These decisions are based, at least partially, on TEs’ unique personal histories and motivations. When considering how teacher education programs address the issue of social justice, a TE’s own history and motivations will impact the enacted curriculum as much as, if not more than, the written curriculum. As we continue to wrestle with how to prepare teachers for a diverse and inequitable society, teacher education programs and teacher education research would benefit from more nuanced consideration of the role TEs play in what gets taught in teacher preparation courses.

On a rainy Monday evening in Northern California, teacher candidates (TCs) in two different classrooms gaze over glowing laptop screens at teacher educators (TEs) making instructional decisions. Both classes, located in separate buildings on the same campus, begin with student-led discussions of the week’s readings taken from an identical syllabus. During the discussions, each TE follows an agreed-on protocol and stays in the background, allowing students to guide the flow of conversation.

In one classroom, following the discussion of the readings, Monica, the TE, pulls up her PowerPoint presentation to dig into issues pertinent to the future teachers’ classrooms. Noticing the sagging heads and drooping eyelids, she pauses, sits on a desk in front of the room, and offers a choice:

We have two directions we can go right now. I want to do what is interesting and fun for you. One option is I have my PowerPoint prepared on peers and intimacy; the other one is from my course on adolescent sexuality. It’s incredibly relevant because sexuality is a huge issue for adolescents. So I will leave it up to you. What do you all prefer? Peers and intimacy, or the sex talk?

The class, a mix of men and women in their mid-20s, perks up, leans forward, and calls out for “the sex talk.”

Meanwhile, across the quad on the second floor of a distinguished stone building, Regina, the other TE, steps to the center of the classroom as the student-led discussion of the readings wraps up. Like Monica, Regina notices and addresses the low energy in the room; however, she presses on with the topic of peers:

Right now we’re going to transition into complicating this notion of friendship. Hopefully what you gather from the article is that a lot of the research that has been done on friendships has been done on a campus with White male sophomores. Every study is like “White male sophomores.” [laughter] But seriously, a lot of adolescent research is done on a particular normative group. Usually middle-class, a lot of times White, students. And so this article is trying to complicate what we know. . .

Forty-five minutes into the three-hour class, what began as tightly parallel sections of the same course now become deeply divergent learning experiences. Working from the same syllabus, in the same context, with the same pool of TCs and following the same lesson framework, these two TEs make vastly different choices about what to focus on in their lessons. While both TEs promote thinking about social justice through challenging societal norms, one focuses on gender and sexuality, whereas the other focuses on race and ethnicity, providing the TCs with vastly different opportunities to learn about social justice topics.

What is the basis for these divergent instructional decisions? What role do the TEs’ personal histories and motivations play in how the shared curriculum is implemented? Further, how do patterns of instructional choices in the enactment of curriculum impact TCs’ opportunities to learn about the program’s core principle of social justice in teaching?

As researchers in teacher education continue to look for ways to prepare teachers to teach an increasingly diverse student population, research examining what works in teacher education must take into account how the experiences and motivations of TEs impact the learning opportunities of TCs. This study investigates how the personal histories and motivations of TEs impact TCs’ opportunities to learn about teaching for social justice.


Within the field of teacher education, a stated emphasis on social justice has become nearly ubiquitous (Zeichner, 2006; Zeichner, Payne, & Brayko, 2015); however, the meaning of social justice in teacher education research remains undertheorized (Cochran-Smith, 2010). The theory of social justice in this study draws on Cochran-Smith’s (2010) framework of social justice in teacher education. Cochran-Smith highlighted the tension between two philosophical approaches to social justice: redistribution and recognition. According to Frazer (2008), social justice focused on redistribution emphasizes work to correct historical inequities in the distribution of materials goods and resources, whereas social justice focused on recognition combats inequities in cultural patterns of evaluation that shape status hierarchies. Addressing inequities of distribution requires changing socioeconomic conditions, whereas addressing inequities of recognition requires changing cultural norms. Current thinking in political philosophy considers how these two aspects of social justice are distinct and require different solutions, yet frequently co-occur and are difficult to disentangle (Honneth, 2003; North, 2006).

When applied to teacher education, Cochran-Smith (2010) reframed these big ideas of redistribution and recognition as (1) equity of learning opportunity, and (2) respect for social groups. She asserted that part of the job of preparing teachers to teach for social justice is the explicit acknowledgement of tensions within this conceptualization of social justice. The present study recognizes the importance of equity of learning opportunities but foregrounds respect for social groups. The following analysis of how the TEs interrogate cultural norms aligns with Cochran-Smith’s respect for social groups “by actively working against the assumptions and arrangements of schooling that reinforce inequities, disrespect, and oppression of [social] groups” (2010, p. 454). Through choices about what content to cover and what ideas to take up during class, TEs have the power to shape instruction that addresses ongoing inequities stemming from the lack of recognition and value given to historically marginalized identities.


The difficulty in identifying effective approaches to social-justice-oriented teacher preparation (Sleeter & Milner, 2011) may be partially attributed to the lack of attention to TEs themselves. Research findings that establish the importance of teachers in the achievement of P-12 students (Aaronson, Barrow, & Sander, 2007; Cohen & Grossman, 2016), might be extrapolated to suggest the importance of TEs in the achievement of TCs. Thus, studies that seek to understand the opportunities to learn about teaching for social justice in a teacher education program should take into account the role of TEs, in addition other aspects of the program such as field placements, curricular content, and candidate demographics.

Historically, TEs receive sparse attention in research on teacher education. Wideen, Mayer-Smith, and Moon (1998) stated that TEs are “one aspect of the ecosystem that appeared missing in the research” (p. 169); nearly a decade later, Lunenberg, Korthagen, and Swennen (2007) described research on the role of TEs as “a blank spot in the literature” (p. 599). In a recent study, “Critiquing Teacher Preparation Research,” Cochran-Smith et al. (2015) found that a majority of research focused on issues of diversity and equity in teacher education was conducted by TEs on their own courses and practices. In comparison, few studies looked at the TEs themselves. Along a similar vein, Lowenstein (2009) pointed to the singular focus in the multicultural teacher education literature on the cultural background of TCs and the marked absence of an examination of the background of TEs.

Studies that do consider the background of TEs in social justice teacher education emphasize demographic aspects of identity (Milner & Howard, 2013; Zumwalt & Craig, 2005). Authors have pointed out the parallel between the demographic makeup of TCs and the demographic makeup of TEs (Sleeter, 2017), citing an overrepresentation of middle-class White females in both groups. Ladson-Billings (2005) expressed concern about the largely White demographic makeup of teacher education, charging, “Despite verbal pronouncements about commitments to equity and diversity, many TEs never have to seriously act on these commitments because they are rarely in situations that make such a demand on them” (p. 230). Recent demographic data support her concern. The U.S. Department of Education Digest of Education Statistics’ (2014) report on the demographics of teacher education faculty shows that 86% of both full-time and part-time faculty in teacher education programs are White.

But do these demographic characteristics really matter? The implicit argument behind the use of demographic characteristics in describing teachers and students is that those characteristics serve as proxies for more robust aspects of identity. Educational researchers in the sociocultural tradition argue that who students and teachers are and the values and experiences they bring with them to the learning setting matter as much as the curriculum, the pedagogical techniques, and the materials of teaching (Ball & Cohen, 1999; Wertsch, 1991). Scholars in educational psychology also stress the importance of identity. As Woolfolk Hoy, Davis, and Pape (2006) explained, “Underlying our field is the assumption that the mental lives of teachers matter for instructional decision making and ultimately for student outcomes in the classroom” (p. 730). Scholars working from both traditional psychological perspectives and sociocultural perspectives base the relevance of their work on the same premise: that who teachers are is consequential for student learning.

Rather than dig deeply into the question of how we define who teachers are, this article seeks to explore the latter half of the premise and to examine the question: In what ways is the identity of the TE consequential for student learning?


Historically, there has been a divide between the identity constructs used by educational psychologists, which lean toward a biological or cognitive approach, and the identity constructs based in sociocultural theories, which emphasize the social and interactional nature of identity (O’Brien & Rogers, 2015). More recent trends begin to blur those lines. For example, Schutz and colleagues (Schutz, Cross, Hong, & Osbon, 2007) defined teacher identity in terms of beliefs, standards, and goals; however, paralleling sociocultural views of identity, they described the way those beliefs and goals are shaped by social-historical and environmental influences across time. (For discussion of how sociocultural views of identity differ from more traditional psychological views, see, for example, Vågan, 2011.)

This study defines teacher identity in terms of personal histories and motivations. The concept of personal histories, although drawn from sociocultural theory, also aligns with the concept of social-historical and environmental influences that shape teacher beliefs, standards, and goals (Schutz et al., 2007). The term motivations, as used in this study, relates to the concept of goals as used in psychological literature yet draws more heavily from sociocultural theory. Motivations can be co-constructed within the setting, thus highlighting the discursive nature of identity—aspects of identity that emerge in specific interactions in specific contexts for specific purposes (Gee, 2000; Nasir, 2002). A TE or TC may take on a particular identity role temporarily to achieve a particular aim. For example, a TE may emphasize her identity as a mother to drive home a point about the parental aspects of teaching. At another point, the same TE may emphasize her identity as a second language learner to bring authenticity and credibility to her assertions about students classified as English learners. These motivations may be fleeting or last for extended periods of time. Each individual within a setting brings his or her own particular motives, and those motives are negotiated within the setting as a whole to “provide channels that encourage and discourage particular ways of thinking and acting” (Grossman, Smagorinsky, & Valencia, 1999, p. 7). The motives of the TE, because of her position of authority, have strong implications for the overall motive of the setting (Smagorinsky, Wright, Augustine, O’Donnell-Allen, & Konopak, 2007).

Previous studies in the sociocultural tradition have framed teacher identity in terms of personal histories or cultural biographies. Galindo (1996) used the concept of “bridging identity” in her examination of the way three Chicana teachers’ biographical experiences shaped their decisions as classroom teachers. She found that acknowledging the connection between past biographical experiences and the role of teaching was particularly validating for minority teachers, whose experiences are frequently devalued. Salinas and Castro (2010) explored the role of cultural biography in the curriculum decision making of two Latino teachers. The authors demonstrated how differing personal experiences led to different areas of emphasis in each classroom. Echoing Ball and Cohen (1999), Salinas and Castro (2010) asserted, “Teachers act as mediators, interpreters, and implementers of the curriculum-in-use in the classroom” (p. 431). These studies establish the value of exploring teachers’ personal histories and motivations to glean insights into the decision making that shapes the curriculum-in-use.

Several self-studies by TEs demonstrate the role that personal histories play in teacher education classrooms. In studies by Gere, Buehler, Dallavis, and Haviland (2009) and Galman, Pica-Smith, and Rosenberger (2010), groups of TEs, all White women, critically examined ways that their own biases and previously unexamined norms impacted their teaching of multicultural education courses. Gere et al. asserted, “In particular, instructors need to recognize how their own raced consciousness and that of students shapes the creation of a curriculum, the construction of assignments, the responses to assignments, and the stereotypes that may emerge when beginning teachers seek to demonstrate cultural responsiveness” (p. 845). Milner (2010) conducted a similar self-study, focusing on how his identity as an African American male shaped his design and implementation of curriculum. He explained that his own stories “offered a counter story or counter narrative to the pervasive views of my mostly White students who live in, act in, and experience a world quite different from and inconsistent with my own” (p. 201). Each of these studies examines the ways a TE’s personal history, seen through social-justice-based lenses of race, class, and gender, shaped TCs’ opportunities to learn.

This study builds on these previous studies by using a third-person comparative case study design to make clear the differences in the enacted curriculum that are due to the differing personal histories and motivations of the TEs.


This study centers on an analysis of classroom talk as opportunities to learn. I follow Tuyay, Jennings, and Dixon (1995), who defined opportunities to learn as “a chance to interact with information and make sense of it” (p. 76). In recent work in teacher education, Blömeke, Suhl, Kaiser, and Döhrmann (2012) explained that opportunities to learn “give characteristic shape and direction to instruction. Every choice provides some opportunity to learn at the expense of others” (p. 45). By focusing on opportunities to learn rather than on the actual learning of TCs, I am making a choice to avoid the added complexities of who takes up those opportunities, in what ways, and for what reasons. This is an intentional simplification of the learning setting for the purpose of understanding one element in greater detail.

Drawing on sociocultural concepts that highlight the importance of social interaction in sense-making (Vygotsky, 1978; Wertsch, 1985), this study looks closely at how TEs shape classroom talk as a means to structure opportunities to learn. The organization of talk includes the amount of time spent on particular topics, whether through lecture, whole-class discussion, or small-group discussion and activities. As in a P–12 classroom, the TE organizes talk by providing prompts or framing questions and taking up ideas offered by the TCs (Nystrand, Wu, Gamoran, Zeiser, & Long, 2003).

This study examines the talk in two concurrent sections of a teacher education course, comparing the opportunities for TCs to learn about social justice. Based on the definitions of social justice described earlier, opportunities to learn about social justice manifest in classroom talk that (1) validates and values diverse normative experiences based in variations in race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic class, and language, and/or (2) prepares TCs to seek equitable learning outcomes across those groups. The opportunities to learn about social justice are analyzed in relation to the personal histories and motivations of each TE.


This study uses an embedded case study design (Yin, 2013) to examine how the personal histories and motivations of two TEs impact the opportunities to learn about social justice teaching in different sections of a single teacher education course.


The Program

The observed course was part of a year-long graduate program at a major research university in California. The program culminates in a master’s degree and California teaching certificate. The program literature and program director emphasize a social justice mission, and all students take one mandatory course focusing explicitly on issues of social justice.

The Course

While the teacher education program requires students to take a course dealing specifically with issues of multiculturalism and social justice, this study followed a second mandatory course, Adolescent Psychology and Development. This course was chosen because it provides ample opportunities to engage with social justice topics but does not mandate them specifically through the written curriculum. Weekly topics in the syllabus included social and cultural identity formation; home and school contexts; and motivation and engagement in high school. In the Adolescent Psychology and Development course, the inclusion of social justice in the enacted curriculum relied more heavily on choices by the TE than it would have in a course in which social justice was part of the explicit curriculum. In this way, the impact of TE decisions on TCs’ opportunities to learn about social justice became more visible.

The syllabus was identical for both sections of the course. It emphasized adolescent development from “biological, psychological, cognitive, and social perspectives” and stressed “development and learning in family, school, and community contexts.”

The Teacher Educators

Monica (a pseudonym), who identifies as a White Jewish heterosexual female in her 30s, is a clinical psychologist by training. She holds a Ph.D. in adolescent development. She was born and raised in Southern California. Her parents were upper middle class; her father was a pharmacist. At the time of the study, she was a member of the teaching faculty in the psychology department and a guest lecturer in the education department. In addition to her work at the university, she worked as a practicing clinical counselor for special needs students and as a coach for teachers working with students facing adversity.

Regina (a pseudonym), who identifies as a Black heterosexual female in her 30s, is a qualitative educational researcher with eight years of experience as a high school English and history teacher in several urban school districts. She holds a Ph.D. in curriculum and teacher education. She was born in Texas and lived in the Midwest before settling in Northern California during her high school years. Both her parents were first-generation college graduates, and both were the only college graduates in their families. She previously taught university courses in the education department on classroom management and assessment, and she also taught African American history in the history department. At the time of the study, she was serving as a lecturer in the education department.

Data Sources

During the fall term of the 2011–2012 school year, the researcher observed and audio recorded two parallel sections of a single teacher education course in a university-based teacher education program. A different TE taught each section, although each used the same syllabus and gave the same readings and assignments. The two sections met concurrently for a 3-hour period once a week for 10 weeks. The researcher observed and recorded 6 weeks of class meetings, taking field notes and collecting class materials. Because the sections met at the same time, the researcher attended one section each week for the first 3 weeks and then enlisted the aid of the class teaching assistants to help with audio recording and collecting class handouts in the section in which the researcher was not present for the following 3 weeks. This comparative analysis focuses on the three corresponding class meetings of the two sections, each lasting 3 hours, during Weeks 4, 5, and 9.

Both TEs were interviewed following the completion of the course using a semistructured interview protocol. After the initial data analysis, the TEs were interviewed a second time and asked follow-up questions about their personal histories and motivations. During the second interview, the TEs were also presented with preliminary findings about the differences in the two sections and asked for their reactions to the differences.

PowerPoint slides, video clips, and handouts used in the course meetings were collected as supplementary data but not analyzed except to the degree that they appeared in classroom talk. Data sources are summarized in Table 1.

Table 1. Primary Data Sources

Observations and field notes.

Weeks 4, 5, and 9 of both sections

Transcribed audio recordings

Transcribed audio recordings of both section meetings for Weeks 4, 5, and 9


Two semistructured interviews of both TEs. The first was conducted after the course finished, and the second was conducted after initial analysis of the course data was completed.


Course syllabus, class lesson plans, class PowerPoints, class readings, class handouts


Audio recordings of the three corresponding class meetings were transcribed. The transcripts were used to create event maps (Bloome, Carter, Christian, Otto, & Shuart-Faris, 2004) to chronologically outline topics and activities in each class meeting. A portion of one event map is shown in Table 2. These event maps were used to compare the basic structure of each class, including how much time was spent in discussion, lecture, small group work, and so on. The event maps also highlighted the topics covered and the duration of time spent on each topic.

Table 2. Partial Event Map—Regina—Week 4—Home and School Cultures

Time in






Regina leads whole-class check-in with case studies.



Regina leads whole-class discussion of the weekly logs, with general feedback and suggestions.



Regina introduces upcoming candidate-led discussion about family and home culture.



Transition to group presentation—technical difficulties with computers and projectors leads to down time.


Discussion of readings

TC-led discussion of Davidson and Phelan article on multiple worlds. Begins with mini-review/lecture by TC1 and TC2.



TCs do silent individual quick-write about case study student’s borders and boundaries as defined in the article.


Partner talk

Partner sharing of written ideas.


Share out

Whole-class share of ideas on case study student borders and boundaries. Led by TC1 and TC2.



TC1 and TC2 organize jigsaw activity exploring how teachers can ease the crossing of boundaries.



Jigsaw meets in expert groups of 4–5 students.



Jigsaw meets in heterogeneous groups of 4–5 students.


Share out

Whole-group share out and wrap-up of big ideas.



Control handed back to Regina. Regina summarizes and retroactively frames/contextualizes the previous conversation.





The talk in the classroom was coded for topics and structure. Topic codes identified common themes in social justice education, including gender/sexuality, race/ethnicity, language, socioeconomic status (SES), and the interrogation of norms. Structure codes included the use of framing talk and uptake by the TE. Framing talk indicates the questions the TE asks to initiate discussion as well as the directions for activities. It also includes summarizing and synthesizing comments the TE makes during or at the conclusion of a discussion. Uptake (Nystrand et al., 2003) includes instances in which the TE picks up an idea presented by a TC and asks for clarification, elaboration, or further discussion. Additionally, it captures places where a TE builds on a student’s comment or question. These codes allowed analysis of the TE’s choice of emphasis during each lesson.

The duration of talk related to social justice in general and talk about particular topics was tabulated and compared. Instances of framing talk and uptake for each social justice topic underwent a more detailed discourse analysis to bring out implicit messages regarding the social justice topics at hand.

The interviews were transcribed and coded using the same social justice topic codes as the class transcripts. In addition, interviews were coded for evidence of personal histories, motivations for teaching, and goals for the learning of TCs.


Analysis of the classroom transcripts showed that both TEs focused almost equally on social justice; however, there were stark differences in the specific social justice topics addressed in each section.

The class meetings across the sections followed a similar structure. The two instructors allotted similar amounts of time for student-led activities and discussion of selected readings. The activities for each day were roughly parallel, although Monica’s section involved a greater degree of lecture, and Regina’s involved more discussion. Some common resources showed up in both classes, including supplementary readings, and images and wording on PowerPoint slides. These similarities demonstrate the common curriculum and speak to sharing of resources and lesson plans throughout the term. Table 3 shows parallel activities across the sections for the first half of the Week 4 class.

Table 3. Parallel Structures and Activities Across Sections—Week 4—Home and School Cultures




Check-in on case studies and logs

8 minutes

12 minutes

TC-led discussion of the readings

35 minutes

36 minutes

School mapping activity from reading

2 minutes—activity is started, then aborted.

20 minutes

TE-led lecture and discussion of family dynamics and parenting styles

32 minutes

30 minutes

Over the three observed course meetings, each TE spent a similar amount of time interrogating societal norms (Table 4), a crucial component of the recognition aspect of social justice. Interrogating societal norms includes talk that highlights assumed norms or that raises alternatives to mainstream norms. For example, Monica described the majority of adolescent psychology research, saying, “it tends to be done with White, middle and upper-class families and it doesn’t always fit all groups.” Regina raised contrasting examples to what she termed “normative, White, middle-class culture.” Although both teachers spent close to 1 hour of the 9 class-hours interrogating societal norms, neither spent any time in this way during Week 5.

Table 4. Minutes Spent Interrogating Societal Norms


Time in Minutes




Week 4—Home and school cultures



Week 5—Motivation and effort in learning



Week 9—Adolescent peers and friends






When looked at as a whole, both TEs spent an almost identical amount of time on social justice in general; however, the analysis reveals sharp differences in the specific social justice content addressed in each section (Table 5).

Table 5. Time Spent Addressing Social Justice Topics Across Class Meetings (Weeks 4, 5, 9)


Time in minutes (% of total social justice talk)





10 (7%)

72 (54%)


115 (82%)

15 (11%)

Socioeconomic status

7 (5%)

10 (7%)


9 (6%)



141 (100%)

136 (100%)

In Monica’s class, talk about sexuality and gender made up 1 hour and 55 minutes, 82% of the total time spent on social justice topics. In Regina’s class, gender and sexuality was only discussed for 15 minutes, 11% of the total time spent on social justice topics. The abundance of talk about gender and sexuality in Monica’s class was paired with sparse talk about race and ethnicity (10 min, 7%). The opposite pattern occurred in Regina’s class, where discussion of race and ethnicity made up a good deal of the classroom talk (72 min, 54%), yet talk related to gender and sexuality was rare.

A simple word count of the transcripts from all class meetings supports the degree of difference in talk between the sections (see Table 6). Each week, Monica’s section contained more than 3 times the number of gender-related words that appeared in Regina’s section. In terms of race, Regina’s section contained almost 8 times the number of race-related words that showed up in Monica’s section. During Week 5, neither section used race-related words, and only a few gender-related words appeared in Monica’s section. That week’s topic, motivation and engagement, focused heavily on psychological theories, including expectancy theory, social-cognitive theories, and behaviorism. Neither the TEs nor the TCs tied those theories to social justice topics. The simple word search includes all recorded talk from TCs and the TEs, yet the difference between the classes is stark.

Table 6. Keyword Search for Gender/Sexuality and Race/Ethnicity

Gender/Sexuality-Related Words


Race/Ethnicity-Related Words







Week 4




Week 4



Week 5




Week 5



Week 9




Week 9

















Search words (inclusive of stemmed words): male, female, sex, gender, sexuality, heterosexual, homosexual, lesbian, gay, boy, girl, heteronormative, women, men


Search words (inclusive of stemmed words): race, ethnicity, White, Black, Latino, American, Filipino, Asian, Chinese, Mexican, diverse, skin, Latina, Chinese, Vietnamese, Afghan, Armenian, Arab

The discourse analysis of the social-justice-related talk reveals detail about the role of each TE in organizing classroom discussion along particular social justice topics. The first part of the analysis explores the role of the TE in framing classroom discussions. Framing talk includes the questions the TE asks to initiate discussion, as well as the directions for activities. It also includes summarizing and synthesizing comments the TE made during or at the conclusion of a discussion. This type of framing talk provides insight into what the TE wants TCs to focus on or to take away from the discussion.

The second part of the discourse analysis looks at the role of the TE in facilitating classroom discussions through the use of uptake. Uptake includes instances in which the TE picks up an idea presented by a TC and asks for clarification, elaboration, or further discussion. Additionally, it captures places where a TE builds on a student’s comment or question. The TE places value on the concept by dedicating time to it, either by facilitating TC discussion further or by taking up the idea herself.


Although the class readings are identical and the majority of activities between the two classes are the same, what each TE emphasized in the readings and activities differs distinctly. A clear example appears when both TEs instruct TCs to map out their placement schools in terms of student groups. Monica provided concise instruction:

What we’re going to do is take some time to construct a map of your school placement. Just like the one in the Olsen reading. So feel free—I encourage you to not be politically correct. I want you to use the language, I know you know the language your students would use, in terms of what groups go where at your school. What hallways? Where do people sit at lunch?

Regina has her TCs do the same activity but emphasizes race and ethnicity in her framing:

You should compare the way you all now look at your school setting and how kids sit and what the school looks like. Olsen describes that. How you organize the school. And then without any previewing, ask your [case study] student to talk about how he or she organizes the school and see what comes up. And this will also give you a little glimpse into their racial ethnic identity development as well. If they’re like, “Oh the jocks sit here. The cheerleaders sit here,” and they don’t see anything about color, that’s going to be interesting. Or they might see everything in the lens of ethnic and racial identity or language or whatever it may be.

By framing the same activity in terms of racial/ethnic identity development, Regina primed the students for a very different discussion than the one in Monica’s class. Regina made clear that race and ethnicity, even their absence, should be noted and thus would be a focus of the conversation. In Monica’s class, there was no expectation that race or ethnicity would be noted, and thus the likelihood of that topic being discussed was lessened. Unfortunately, the results of the different framing cannot be analyzed because Monica’s class aborted the activity due to TC concerns that they didn’t know their placements well enough. Still, the differential role of race/ethnicity in the way the activity was organized remains an important distinction.

A second clear example is worth sharing. In Week 4, both classes discussed a reading about parenting styles. In Monica’s class, the discussion focused almost entirely on gender:

So there’s a difference when there’s a boy in the family or a girl in the family. And so what I want you to do is to think about those power relationships within the family, but I also want you to think about it within the classroom. I want you to pay attention to, number one, your own gender. . .  

While in Regina’s class, she moved the discussion toward race and ethnicity again:

The Arnett chapter talks about a new category called a traditional parenting style, which captures the cultural differences between how the child . . . interprets how the parent is acting. In certain cultures, for example, Asian, Latino, African American, if a parent is stern to them they don’t think that is less loving or less warm. For example, Latino culture values respecto, or familismo. They understand that to obey their parents is part of their culture, so they don’t think that when their father tells them to do something that “Oh he’s being controlling” or “He’s being demanding.” The same thing in Asian culture, there is the idea of familial piety and the understanding of the parents as the authority and the child as someone who should be obedient. They understand that when a parent tells them something, that’s a sign of their relationship.

The framing of classroom talk is overt and direct. Monica directed students to consider gender roles in familial relationships, whereas Regina used the same articles and asked students to consider how the classification of parenting styles applies to different ethnic cultures.

Framing also happens at the end of discussions. In Week 4, TC groups in both sections lead a discussion of readings about borders and boundaries that students must navigate between home and school. In both sections, small groups of TCs discuss ethnicity, language, and other aspects of home and school culture. Following a whole-class share out of key ideas from the small group discussions, both TEs stepped in with a few final words. In this postdiscussion framing talk, Monica emphasized the role of self-disclosure for teachers, saying,

One of the major tasks for adolescents is establishing a healthy sense of intimacy, and one of the parts of intimacy is figuring out, how much do I share with somebody else? Do I trust other people? And one way to figure out if you can trust other people is to see how much they share with us.

Regina’s final words retroactively framed the conversation in terms of race/ethnicity. She said,

One thing I want to point out, though, is when we talk about the border between home and school, the school culture is not only shaped by student demographics. So let’s be really careful when we say they are congruent worlds just because your school is 90% Latino and your case study student is Latino. It doesn’t mean that your school culture reflects the home culture. So we just have to be really careful about whether it’s congruent. . .

There are no instances in the observed class meetings in which Monica framed a discussion or activity in terms of race or ethnicity. Without the TE bringing up the topic of race or ethnicity as fodder for discussion, it is not surprising that there was little classroom talk related to this social justice topic in Monica’s class. At the same time, the only instance in the 9 hours of observed class periods that Regina framed any activity or discussion in terms of gender or sexuality occurred when it was paired with race/ethnicity. She set up a small-group activity, saying, “So my example here, it says boys are more likely to have general friendships outside of their race and ethnicity across these groups than girls are.”


Uptake refers to the way the TE builds on an idea offered by the student. Asking clarifying questions, soliciting examples from TCs, offering her own examples, and asking probing questions are all forms of uptake used by the TEs. The use of uptake increases both the duration and quality of talk, thus increasing the opportunities for TCs to learn about a topic. The contrast between the TEs’ uptake of talk about gender and race is striking. Monica used extensive uptake when issues of gender/sexuality were offered but little to none with topics of race/ethnicity. Regina did the opposite.

In Week 4, during a lecture about parenting styles and family dynamics, Monica described a study in which family members allow interruptions in conversation along gender lines. A TC interjects with a question that leads Monica to open up the topic for an extended discussion. The ensuing conversation took nearly 10 minutes and involved significant contributions from six TCs.


So, you’re talking about ceding power, but you’re really talking about conversation time. Does this get reflected in, like, negotiation of rules, or stuff like that?


Yes. Yes it does. Often there are gender differences in terms of negotiation of rules. Within the family. The power—this is just one example of a study that exemplifies this power shift within the family, but it definitely happens in other places. Does anybody want to comment? Does anybody want to see how this plays out in your classroom? Does anybody notice something that you disagree with that doesn’t play out in your classroom? Josie?

As TCs contributed ideas and experiences, Monica asked follow-up and probing questions and solicited additional comments and examples from the class. Her questions included:


Yeah. Anybody else noticed it or disagree with this? This didn’t happen in your family or your classroom?

. . .


But, so I’m interested, when girls participate, do you notice anything different? In terms of how they participate? Do you have to call on them differently? Any- Anything? Anything?

. . .


Okay. So is that something—Do we point that out?

. . .


Okay. Anybody else? Anybody have advice? Or anybody have a similar or different situation?

. . .


mm hmm. Anything else? Any other comments?

. . .


Did you have a comment? About that?

The extent of the uptake shows Monica’s interest in and comfort with the subject matter. The topic of gender roles was not a focal point of either the readings for the week or the course in general, but Monica’s questioning guided and extended the conversation in this direction. This receptiveness to talking about gender and sexuality contrasts with Monica’s uptake of talk about race.

Ten minutes later, during the same lecture, when the issue of race was brought up explicitly by a TC, Monica’s uptake took a different form. As the lecture turned to describing different conflict styles in families, one TC questioned the relevance of the research to cultures other than middle-class White Americans, referencing one of the readings. Instead of probing questions and soliciting examples for how this might look in TC’s classrooms, Monica acknowledged the comment by the TC but offered no further uptake.


They are talking about the different parenting styles that there are. How our model, or how the model they’ve developed about parenting styles, which was authoritative, was the ideal. But the model didn’t quite translate well into, like, either other cultures in America that were not the mainstream White culture or into just, like, other cultures in general. And this seems to have a very similar parallel. . .


Yes. Yes. Thank you for picking up on that. And that’s unfortunately who a lot of the research tends to be done on. So you have to always look at these, and some of my slides say it and some of them don’t, so thank you for bringing up on here that it does tend to be done with White, with middle- and upper-class families, and it doesn’t always fit all groups.

Monica then went on to lecture about the bidirectionality of parenting styles using a comparison to her own teaching style. After 3 1/2 minutes of lecture, she concluded,

Monica We tend to be thinking about it as this one direction; that the parent is interacting in this way and then the student has particular outcomes because of that, but we often forget that the students pull different types of behavior out of the adults. So yes. Lots and lots of good things to think about there. So thank you for bringing that up.

This conclusion, “So thank you for bringing that up,” shows that Monica considers this mini-lecture a response to the comment and question by the TC. However, the issue of bidirectional parenting styles is a long way from the issue the TC brought up concerning the relevance of the research for groups other than White middle-class Americans. Other than confirming that the research “doesn’t always fit all groups,” Monica didn’t speak about race. She didn’t ask any of the follow-up questions or solicit comments like she did when the topic related to gender or sexuality. This pattern was repeated throughout the observed classes and highlighted by the fact that this was the only time in the 9 hours of analyzed class time that Monica addressed race in any fashion. This absence of race talk and converse engagement with discussions of gender and sexuality shaped the opportunities to learn for TCs in Monica’s class.

In contrast, Regina, while using extensive uptake on issues of race and ethnicity, offered no uptake when TCs brought up issues of gender or sexuality. During Week 9, students were discussing the kinds of questions they might ask their case study students based on the material in the readings. One student raised the topic of homosexual relationships and got a strong reaction from the class.


Um, they also mentioned, I think it was in this article, or maybe the other one, about same-gender friendships,




and basically if they have those, and . . . if they’re platonic or -




I don’t know. [It would be interesting.]



((Laughter from several students))


See, this is the non-judge-


Yeah. Right. [Sarcastic tone]

((More overlapping talk and laughter))


One thing I was trying to do before class was come up with a, sort of a visual for students to try to chart a lot of the questions that you guys were asking so it’s easier for you to keep all that in your head. And then . . .

As the TC was on the verge of asking about romantic or sexual relationships between same-gender friends in line 8, another student cut her off. This was followed by laughter and a sarcastic comment when a student brought up being nonjudgmental. At the end of the segment, Regina ignored the initial half-asked question, the TC’s comment, and the class reaction and moved on to the next part of the lesson. Given Monica’s emphasis on sexuality and gender issues, it would be hard to imagine this moment being ignored in her class; however, the pattern of student comments and questions about gender and sexuality going unexplored occurred multiple times in Regina’s section. In a discussion of bullying, students were sharing experiences, and the examples turned to sexuality. A male TC related a story about a boy in his classes who wore feminine clothes. The TC voiced concern about whether he had handled the situation effectively. A number of signals in his recounting of the incident suggested that further processing of the incident could be beneficial. He stated, “to the class’s credit a lot of students didn’t seem to mind,” suggesting it’s expected that they should be upset by how the boy dressed. The TC also said, “And you know, because it’s a dress, it can relate to wearing certain things that are, like, out of the question,” which might invite a follow-up question about what assumptions are in play. In Monica’s class, with the emphasis on interrogating gender and sexual norms, one can imagine these comments leading to an involved discussion. In Regina’s class, rather than asking probing questions or soliciting thoughts from other TCs, Regina chose to address the question in a very general way, without exploring any specifics around issues of gender or heteronormativity.

The analysis of social justice topics, framing talk, and uptake revealed distinctive patterns in what each TE chose to take up and address. The pattern of choices directly impacted the TCs’ opportunities to learn about particular social justice content. Although both TEs addressed social justice generally, Monica solicited talk about gender/sexuality while deflecting talk about race/ethnicity. Regina solicited talk about race/ethnicity while deflecting talk about gender/sexuality.

The next section explores the connection between these patterns and the TE’s personal histories and motivations.

Connections to Personal Histories and Motivations

The interview data and the TE’s references to personal experiences during the observations shed light on the alignment between personal history and motivations and the social justice topics covered in each section.

In the initial interviews, each TE provided clear evidence about her goals for what she wanted the TCs to take away from the course. This motivation, according to sociocultural theory, impacts what knowledge is valued within the learning setting as a whole. Although there are similarities in the motivations of the TEs to promote understanding of social justice, the differences in the social justice topics align with the differences described previously; Monica privileges issues of gender/sexuality, and Regina privileges race.

A Common Focus on Social Justice

Both TEs spoke explicitly in the interviews about broadening TCs’ views of adolescent development in ways that match a social justice view of recognition. For Monica, this is best exemplified in how she described the role of the readings in class:

My goal throughout the quarter is to get them to . . . when you’re saying things like “a typical adolescent.” —that’s what I hear a lot in the beginning of the year. “This is what normal adolescents do,” or “this is what typical” or like “ALL adolescents”—and a goal that I always have in everything that I do about adolescence is just to get them to shift their thinking and to have more empathy and to do what I call a lot of myth-busting about stereotypes that we have about adolescents.

Regina expressed a similar idea in her interview:

I tell the [TCs] to think about the readings as a place to begin and to see, does your student kind of fit with in this understanding of adolescence? And if not, talk about why. And then try and push our understanding of adolescent development a little bit wider. Because many times they’re working with students who are not getting the normative understanding of adolescence, what many of the studies are based on.

And later, “It’s really a way to get them to think about their student with more depth and also a way to have a broader understanding of adolescence.” The focus of both TEs on expanding a view of what’s “normal” aligns with the common emphasis on social justice in their classrooms.

Divergent Social Justice Goals

Monica explained in her initial interview that one of the things she wants TCs to understand is the role of sexuality in adolescent development. She wants to push past the stereotypes of adolescents in general, and adolescent sexuality in particular. There is clear evidence of how this motivation translates directly to Monica’s activities and discussions in the classroom. In Week 4, she began an activity with the class, saying, “Let’s talk about how sexual you think adolescents should be. This is one where you are examining your own values, your own issues, and how maybe some of your beliefs come off to the kids that you’re interacting with.” Monica’s desire to confront adolescent stereotypes primarily took the form of interrogating beliefs about sexuality and gender.

Although Regina shared general motivations with Monica about encouraging TCs to question their beliefs, Regina focused on issues of race. When asked about how the TCs shape the conversation in class, Regina turned to examples of race. She explained that for some of the TCs,

This room is more diverse than anything they’ve ever experienced before in their lives. And so this is new language to them. These are new ideas to them. We want them to have room to say what they’re uncomfortable with. So that we can then work on trying to understand why they’re uncomfortable, and maybe build a different understanding about how schools can be organized and why kids of color need different things.

She elaborated, saying, “I wanted to create space in the room for that to happen. Where you know, particularly young White women can voice their discomfort and can voice their confusion around these issues because they’ll never, will probably rarely, have more opportunities to voice this again.”

In a follow-up interview after the initial analysis was complete, each TE was asked about the pattern of talk related to race/ethnicity and gender/sexuality in their classrooms. Both TEs acknowledged the observed pattern and described the rationale behind it. Monica explained,

That [not talking about race] was a bit more of a deliberate decision on my part. Because I feel like they get that [talk about race] in other classes. . . The feedback I’ve gotten after we read the Tatum book [Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?] is ‘We talk about this in every class’ and I don’t want to do that.

She went on to explain that she has experience talking about race:

My dissertation was on Native Americans. I did a lot of stuff with race. I don’t think the reason I don’t talk about it as much is because I’m not comfortable with it. But, I mean, that certainly may be part of it, but I don’t think that’s it. I just, my feeling is I want to give them stuff that they don’t get other places.

Likewise, Regina framed the lack of gender/sexuality talk as a deliberate choice:

We are forced to make a choice as someone who is double, triple jeopardy. Where are you going to align yourself initially? I do believe that statistically it’s supported is that what’s most dire in schools is a kid’s racial identity and how that’s paid attention to or not paid attention to, supported, whatever. And so, that’s probably where I come from . . . I didn’t say, screw the girls, or what, but that’s pretty clear to me . . . girls are going to college. They’re going to be okay. They’re going to college at rates higher than boys . . . and in fact, schools are highly feminized so you’re going to be fine. And I can see that in the literature, I can see that in my own research, and I can see it in my own children’s experiences. So, if I had more time. . . There are still fewer girls going into math and science but that’s not where my eye, it’s not where my research is.

When shown the discussion patterns in their classes, both Monica and Regina named their motivations explicitly. Each believes that the particular social justice topic they’ve chosen to focus on is more valuable to their students. These motivations are tied to personal histories. The following section outlines how each TE tied her goals for the class to her own life experience.

Personal Histories

In both the initial interview and the follow-up interview, the TEs were asked about their upbringing, including their parents, their schooling experiences, and major life events that they felt had an impact on their career trajectory. Although the details of their personal histories are limited, the evidence provided in both interviews and through comments during class supports the link between personal histories and motivations.

Monica. Monica highlighted her extensive experience discussing gender and sexuality. Throughout both her teaching and the interview, Monica repeatedly brought up her clinical work with teens and their families. In Week 4 alone, Monica referenced her work outside teacher education 17 times. As she began her lecture on parent–teen relationships, she told the class,

One of my favorite things to talk about is parent–teen relationships during adolescence, because it is something people have very vivid memories of, and also because I spend a lot of time dealing not only with teenagers, but also with their parents. In particular, in relation to school issues.

The clinical work Monica described frequently involved working with teens around issues of sexuality. Monica’s professional work directly impacted what she chose to emphasize in the teacher education classroom, as she explained in her interview:

The sexuality discussion . . . that’s a pet issue of mine because that’s a class that I teach but it’s also a really, really important issue for adolescents and it’s also something a lot of young teachers think “I know how to handle that I’m comfortable with that.” And they will say that and then they don’t actually know really what to do.

Three times in the initial interview, Monica called sexuality her “pet issue.” Each time she also referenced teaching another course with that subject matter. At one point, when talking about balancing the readings with other information she deemed important, Monica described using the “PowerPoints that I would use in my [sexuality] class and spending more time asking, ‘What do you think? What’s been your experience?’” Monica’s references to having taught this content in another class and even using the teaching materials from that class suggests that familiarity with the content facilitated its inclusion in her teacher education section.

In the follow-up interview, Monica was asked directly why sexuality was such an important issue for her. In response, Monica described working in her father’s pharmacy, saying “Since I was very little I was very comfortable with sexuality because he always made sure I knew about everything I was selling.” She described her father’s upbringing around the ballet in Chicago; as she put it, “It was one of the only places in the 1950s where men were out and actually had partners. And they would have them over to dinner. So my dad grew up not knowing that males and males could not be together. And he passed that on to us.” She talked about her mother’s side of the family and how her uncle was an editor for the Playboy Club newsletter. She summarized, “I grew up with both sides of the family, I think, very sensitive to issues around sexuality, gender, things like that.”

Further, Monica explained, “Because my brother is gay, I am very, very attentive to gender and sexuality issues.” Monica drew a connection between her current professional interests and her brother’s experiences as a gay man. Overall, she credited the attitudes of her family and her upbringing as an important part of prioritizing gender and sexuality in her curricular choices. She concluded the follow-up interview by saying, “So that is my background and what I bring to [the classroom].”

Regina. Regina provided less direct information about her previous work experience than Monica; however, evidence of her previous engagement with issues of race stood out. In class, she provided an anecdote about her previous high school teaching, saying,

I remember teaching in D.C. and students found out that African Americans are only 12% of the population and ran down the hall to my class and they were like “Ms. --, he’s lying! He said that we’re only 12% of the population!” ’Cause they could not believe. ’Cause their world was D.C. and everywhere they looked, in that context, they felt that they were totally the majority.

This example shows us that race was a salient aspect of Regina’s history as a teacher. Both providing the example in her teacher education course and, within the example, the way that the students turned to Regina to help them make sense of new information about race show that she has experience talking about race as a teacher and as a TE.

During the interview, Regina reflected on another time she referenced her teaching experience during class and highlighted the constant presence of race in her thinking:

And then there was another time too. I'm not sure if we were specifically talking about . . . um. . . In my mind we were talking about race. It was never said. It was always this subtext for me. It was around kids who are cussing or doing something ridiculous in the parking lot, outside the school space and, the question of is this your job? . . .  and I said, “If you’re on the bus, and there are kids in the back row, acting up, then that is your job. You have to get in there and you have to tell them what you expect them to do and how to be, and you’re a teacher at all times.” And you know, for me, race was all over that.

None of the questions in the initial interview with Regina mentioned race, but Regina’s answers frequently turned to race. Both her experience and her comfort talking about race thus appeared in the interview as well as in her classroom.

In the follow-up interview, when asked specifically about the large amount of time spent on issues of race, Regina responded,

One thing is I’ve worked in a lot of schools where teachers were predominantly white, middle class, and women for the most part, and  . . . it became clear to me that the questions, the frustrations that people were having with their class were . . . around race. I mean, it’s hard to articulate, but it’s a similar conversation about, were kids joking? You know they’ll be rolling their eyes at you or whatever it may be—and how to interpret that. As, “No, that was a sign of disrespect,” or, “They are trying to befriend you in this moment.” How to see that. And I think my goal in adolescent development course is, not teaching all these things that kids do, but just to be open to the fact that you carry all these cultural ways of interacting and being in the world.

Regina positioned herself as someone who can translate from one cultural way of being to another, and her description of her life experiences demonstrates that this is a role she’s taken on before. She described being one of a handful of Black students a predominantly White high school as well as attending college at Howard University, a historically Black university. Regina described extensive experience moving between racially and culturally distinct spaces and explained that she hopes to pass on that cross-cultural understanding to her TCs.


This study seeks to explain the basis for differences in how TEs provide opportunities for TCs to learn about social justice when working from the same syllabus. The findings highlight that differences in what social justice topics are emphasized (gender/sexuality for Monica, race/ethnicity for Regina) correlate strongly with the TEs’ personal histories and motivations. Monica expressed this plainly, saying that TCs are “just not going to have the same experience [in the two sections] because what I think is important and the way I’m going to teach it is going to be different than the way [another TE] teaches it.” This study shows this to be true even when the two TEs are working from the same syllabus in the context of the same teacher education program.

These findings align with sociocultural theories of learning (Grossman et al., 1999; Wertsch, 1991) that suggest that who the teacher is and what she brings with her to the classroom directly impact students’ opportunities to learn. The impact of the personal histories and motivations of TEs on opportunities to learn becomes particularly important in terms of social justice concepts of recognition because frequently these concepts are not spelled out explicitly in the curriculum. As demonstrated in the observed classes, the same readings, assignments, and curriculum materials can lead to very different learning opportunities depending on the framing and uptake of the TE.

These different learning opportunities are expressed through aspects of curricula that students are exposed to: explicit curricula, implicit curricula, and null curricula (Eisner, 2001). The explicit curriculum refers to the curriculum as written or overtly taught. The two TEs studied here enacted the same explicit curriculum by using the same syllabus, readings, and case study assignment. The lessons about adolescent development, the importance of developing empathy for individual students, and considering the contexts of learning were taught across the sections. This explicit curriculum is spelled out in the course materials and could be gleaned without observing any actual teaching (as long as the TEs maintained some semblance of fidelity to the written curriculum). The explicit curriculum constitutes only a portion of the opportunities to learn, however. The implicit and null curricula are shaped more fully through the TEs’ organization of classroom talk.

The implicit curriculum includes lessons about what is valued and considered important in the class. The use of framing and uptake in organizing classroom talk communicates the implicit curriculum by showing what ideas the TEs deem worthy of class time. The implicit curriculum in both classes served to integrate social justice into the course through highlighting the importance of breaking societal stereotypes of adolescents as well as increasing the recognition of historically underrepresented social groups. The implicit curriculum in Monica’s class included extensive learning about gender and sexuality, whereas in Regina’s class, the implicit curriculum included topics related to race and ethnicity. Both Monica and Regina spoke explicitly about their motivations for the implicit curriculum. Regina described her choice to prioritize race over gender, whereas Monica articulated her interest in highlighting issues of sexuality/sexual orientation. This helps make an important distinction that the implicit curriculum is not a subconscious or unintentional curriculum; it is a parallel curriculum, based on TEs’ motivations, that is not explicitly articulated.

Eisner (2001) described the null curriculum in a manner similar to the implicit curriculum. In this case, what is not taught communicates a message about what is not valued. The absence of a perspective can be as powerful to a TC’s development as the presence of a perspective. The concept of the null curriculum inversely parallels the social justice concept of recognition. Where recognition involves acknowledging and valuing the diverse experiences and knowledge traditions of different identity groups, the absence of those identity groups from classroom talk renders them invisible. In Monica’s class, the lack of discussion of race and ethnicity made them major components of the null curriculum, whereas in Regina’s class, issues of sexuality and sexual orientation became part of the null curriculum.

As Cochran-Smith (2004) asserted, teaching is always a political act. When teachers remain silent on issues or choose not to take a social justice stance, they are taking a stance nonetheless. Silence or inaction become stances of support for the status quo. The lack of attention to race/ethnicity in Monica’s class could communicate to a TC that prevailing societal views of race in education are correct. This is not Monica’s opinion, as she explained in the interviews, but her silence on the issue supports the status quo. Equally problematic is Regina’s silence on issues of gender/sexuality. Even though Regina had thought through her decision to privilege race over gender, by not sharing her rationale with her TCs, she gave them license to interpret her silence as they wished. The power and problem of the null curriculum is that it can easily be misinterpreted. In this case, without data from the TCs themselves, we can’t know what messages students took from the teachers’ silence, but we can identify the silence as yet another opportunity to learn.

The differences in the implicit and null curriculum in each section, as shaped by the TE, were not covert or subversive. Each TE was conscious of the decisions she was making, although both were surprised by the extent of the difference when shown the initial analysis.


In teacher education classes where social justice topics are not part of the explicit curriculum, it is important that they become a positive part of the implicit curriculum through their presence in classroom talk. Equally important is that they do not become a part of the null curriculum through their absence. This study suggests that for this to happen, the personal histories and motivations of TEs should be taken into account.

Differing conceptualizations of identity will lead to differing conclusions about how the identity of TEs shapes the curriculum-in-use. Defining TE identity in reductive ways, such as demographic characteristics, does not allow for the rich understanding of how life experiences shape TEs’ curricular choices. Suggesting that demographic characteristics are not deterministic of life experiences by no means implies that demographic characteristics are not important. It is naïve to suggest that demographic characteristics do not influence life experiences. An African American woman in the United States, such as Regina, will likely have dealt overtly with issues of race and racism for much of her life; however, her interpretation of those experiences and the way those experiences influence her motivations in a teacher education classroom cannot be determined by her race. Conversely, a White woman, like Monica, may have had less incentive to explicitly interrogate her racial identity, and issues of race may have played a less overt role in her lived experience. Assumptions like these cannot be verified based simply on ascribed characteristics like race or gender.

The TEs’ divergent approaches to gender and sexuality make plain the pitfall of equating a demographic approach to identity with an identity construct based in personal histories and motivations. Both TEs identify as heterosexual women, yet they provide very different opportunities to learn about the role of gender, sexuality, and sexual orientation in their sections. Monica pointed to unique experiences in her family history that made sexuality and sexual orientation particularly salient for her. Regina acknowledged the importance of gender issues but described making a conscious choice to attend to issues of race over issues of gender or sexual orientation. This example illustrates that staffing teacher education courses with TEs who meet particular demographic characteristics does not ensure, nor preclude, that corresponding social justice topics will be addressed. Teacher education programs that hope to integrate particular aspects of social justice as part of the implicit curriculum would do well to attend to the life histories and motivations of their TEs. Further, because TEs will necessarily bring varied experiences with social justice topics to their teaching, it becomes incumbent on the teacher education program to work proactively to make TEs aware of the kinds of differences in opportunities to learn described in this article. As a teacher education program works holistically to provide a well-rounded social justice experience for their TCs, it could encourage explicit conversations with the TEs around the individual interests and lenses they bring to classroom experiences.

Based on these preliminary findings, future research needs to explore the degree to which the TE’s talk influences the talk of the TCs. Are the messages regarding what ideas and perspectives have value in a class, as communicated through the implicit and null curriculum, taken up by the TCs? There is some evidence in this study that this is the case. The word count looking at race- and gender-related words included all classroom talk, including TCs in small groups and in the TC-led portion of the class. The pattern of talk persisted even when the TE was not participating. This suggests that the personal histories and motivation of the TE may influence the opportunities to learn beyond the TE’s direct organization of classroom talk.

If the goal of teacher education for social justice is to provide TCs with opportunities to learn about social justice concepts of recognition and distribution throughout their preparation experience, then it is not enough to provide a well-constructed curriculum that integrates social justice. Studies of teacher education curriculum based on analysis of syllabi (Gorski, 2009) or course descriptions (King & Butler, 2015) help us understand the broad programmatic goals but do little to shed light on what actually gets taught. To understand the enactment of a social justice curriculum, as shaped by TEs’ in-the-moment curricular decisions, we must more carefully attend to the personal histories and motivations of the TEs teaching the courses.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 120 Number 7, 2018, p. 1-34
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22131, Date Accessed: 1/27/2022 10:06:40 AM

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About the Author
  • Mike Metz
    University of Missouri
    E-mail Author
    MIKE METZ, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of English Education at the University of Missouri. Broadly, his research examines the preparation of teachers for social justice-oriented teaching. More specifically, he explores the connections between language and identity as they play out in English classrooms. Prior to earning his Ph.D., Mike was a teacher on the south side of Chicago for 15 years.
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