Background/Context: Figured worlds have been conceptualized as spaces, or “realms” (Holland, Skinner, Lachicotte, & Cain, 1998), where individuals assign meaning and significance to actors and characters or understand what they take as “typical or normal” (Gee, 2014). This study applies a lens of figured worlds to descriptions that pre-service teachers (PSTs) give of themselves and their relationships with students they described as challenging to teach.
Purpose/Objective: Research focused on two questions: (1) How do PSTs describe their own figured worlds in relation to those of their students? (2) What challenges and breakthroughs do PSTs describe in their efforts to understand students’ figured worlds through relationship building?
Setting: Data are from a cohort of secondary English education PSTs during teacher preparation at a large public university in a South Atlantic state.
Population/Participants/Subjects: At graduation, the cohort consisted of 15 members, all of whom participated in our study. All of the participants were women of typical university student age. Participants described their race/ethnicity as White (11), Korean (1), Filipino-American (1), Chinese-American (1), and Hispanic (1).
Research Design: This qualitative study uses open-coding analysis to consider ways PSTs talked about their figured worlds and their student relationships across their two-year English education teacher preparation. Data include field notes of course discussions and practice-teaching observations, interviews, course presentations, lesson plans, and course assignments, especially from three teaching inquiry projects that PSTs completed during their program. The researchers take a practitioner-inquirer stance, as they were both involved in helping prepare the cohort.
Findings/Results: Among Question 1 findings, PSTs reveal various individual figured worlds in addition to several group-defined figured worlds, including group identities such as: women; students who had themselves excelled in school; new, young, and inexperienced teachers; people identifying strongly with English content; and people of privilege. Among Question 2 findings, PSTs overwhelmingly viewed relationships with students as important; however, they experienced many challenges and breakthroughs in building those relationships.
Conclusions/Recommendations: PSTs entered their preparation and their student-teaching classrooms with their own figured worlds about themselves and what teacher–student relationships should look like. In practice teaching, however, they experienced many challenges to building the types of relationships they expected. And they also experienced breakthroughs in improving these relationships. For teacher educators, it is important to understand the figured worlds that PSTs bring to teacher–student relationships and to help them in understanding that students’ figured worlds might not align with their own.