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.