Learning to Teach and Teaching to Learn: Supporting the Development of New Social Justice Educators

Article excerpt

Introduction

Beginning teachers are more likely to leave the profession than seasoned counterparts; 14 percent of new teachers leave after their first year, 33 percent leave within three years, and almost 50 percent leave in five years (Alliance for Quality Education, 2004). Research on teacher attrition shows many educators who are part of this "revolving door" (Ingersoll, 2001) are "service oriented" and "idealistic" teachers (Miech & Elder, 1996). These teachers enter the profession to "mak[e] a difference" and contribute to positive change in society. The constraints they face within public schools, however, make it difficult to realize their idealism, leading to attrition. With fewer teachers in the field teaching from this perspective to serve as mentors, how can emerging teachers, dedicated to social justice education (SJE), find the support needed to develop as professionals and remain in the field?

This study explored the role that participating in a critical inquiry project (CIP) played on the development of new educators who aspire to teach from a social justice perspective. The study also examined how relationships between the first- and second-year teacher participants shaped their development as social justice educators, learners, and leaders. Findings contribute to understanding two areas: new teacher induction and peer and near-peer mentorship. Unlike most new teacher support groups, CIP was specifically geared to support teachers in their pursuit of SJE. It provided induction designed to combat the attrition of "idealistic" teachers, a group often not targeted through professional development literature. Additionally, little research in the field examines how peer and near-peer relationships between teachers at varying stages of teaching impact their development as social justice educators and leaders.

Literature Review

The National Commission on Teaching and America's Future (2003) contends that one strategy to support teachers professionally is to prepare teachers for the challenges they will face in urban schools. Darling-Hammond and McLaughlin (1995) argue that quality professional development must "provide teachers opportunities to share what they know, discuss what they want to learn, and connect new concepts and strategies to their own unique contexts" (p. 597). Quality mentoring by veteran teachers and access to networks of educators who share similar concerns are strategies that are often promoted (Alliance for Quality Education, 2004; Achinstein & Athanases, 2006).

While there is much research on general support for new teachers (Achinstein & Athanases, 2006; NCTAF, 2003), there is less research on how to meet the needs of what Miech and Elder (1996) call "idealistic" teachers "who seek to make a significant impact on society" (p. 239). Idealistic teachers place less importance on a job's extrinsic rewards, such as income and prestige (Mortimer & Lorence, 1979; Rosenberg, 1981) and instead have a "desire to help people" (Simpson et al. 1979). Unlike teachers who enter the field without this service orientation, these teachers have a higher rate of attrition due to working in an "environment that offers them little guidance on the goals, means, and evaluation of their work" (p. 249). By introducing such teachers to the goals and skills of the field of SJE, projects such as CIP are spaces that can provide guidance to such educators with a specific focus on the service nature of teaching that attracted them to the profession in the first place.

There is a rich tradition of teachers who also approach education from this perspective, seeing it as a vehicle for freedom and liberation (Ayers, Hunt, & Quinn, 1998; Freire, 1993; Greene, 1988; Payne, 2008). Westheimer and Kahne (2007) assert, "For many, a commitment to social justice also involves a critique of current inequities in society and experimentation with ways to create socially just conditions within schools that model the equality of educational access and equity of educational outcomes we want for the larger society" (p. …