Advocacy for Equity in Classrooms and Beyond: New Teachers’ Challenges and Responses
by Steven Z. Athanases & Luciana C. De Oliveira - 2008
Background/Context: New teachers face an array of challenges in today’s schools. Even when teachers leave credential programs with useful preparation, early-career jobs and contexts shape and constrain teachers’ goals and practice related to teaching diverse learners. Becoming change agents can be a tall order.
Purpose/Objective/research Question/Focus of Study: Considering this context, we sought to understand how graduates of one teacher credential program appear prepared to advocate for educational equity in their new jobs by asking three questions: (1) What challenges do new teachers identify in classes and schools that require advocacy for some youth? (2) In what ways do they respond to such challenges? and (3) What enables these acts of advocacy?
Research Design: A total of 38 graduates, all currently teaching, participated in five separate 3-hour focus groups of 5–10 teachers each. We used focus groups as a research tool to triangulate a range of other data, including artifacts and surveys. We sought teachers’ deep reflections on practice, on their preparation for advocacy work, and on their professional needs. We transcribed focus group discussions then subjected these to a series of procedures, including analysis of content and themes of teachers’ narratives.
Findings/Results: Teachers reported actions to address equity in a range of sites, with the classroom as the core site for teachers’ advocacy work. In complex narratives, teachers reported trying to meet learning needs of diverse students. English language learners’ needs especially prompted acts of advocacy in and beyond the classroom. These included instructional tailoring, out-of-class tutorials, hunts for better texts and tests, a library field trip, creation of a culture/computer club, heightened parent contacts, and launching of a bilingual parent group. Teachers’ acts of advocacy shared four crosscutting themes: a goal of equitable access to resources and support, convictions about equity, interceding on behalf of students in need, and engaging coadvocates. Teachers reported that these themes have grounding in their teacher credential program, which featured advocating for equity in its mission, goals, and practices. Those with bilingual education credentials engaged in more acts of advocacy beyond the classroom, and analyses suggest that this may be due to credential program experiences, life experiences, and the larger sociopolitical context for teaching English language learners.
Conclusions/Recommendations: Results challenge conventional models of learning to teach, documenting how teachers, even in the throes of the induction period, can focus on student learning and on ways to advocate in and beyond the classroom for those in need of someone interceding on their behalf, particularly when well prepared to do so.
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