Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

An Ethics of Access: Using Life History to Trace Preservice Teachers' Initial Viewpoints on Teaching for Equity

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

An Ethics of Access: Using Life History to Trace Preservice Teachers' Initial Viewpoints on Teaching for Equity

Article excerpt

For several years I worked as a literacy teacher educator and a doctoral student in an elementary teacher certification program in which policies and pedagogies were underpinned by a social justice agenda (Zeichner, 2003). In a semesterlong literacy practicum, preservice teachers with whom I worked were encouraged to develop literacy pedagogies that would meet students' diverse needs, interests, and language backgrounds; to examine how their own literacy biographies affect their instructional choices in literacy; to pursue instructional activities in literacy that would encourage students to question broader social inequities and injustices; and to design literacy teaching and literacy learning experiences that would promote a more just and equitable society.

Social justice is ubiquitous within teacher education: One would be hard pressed to find a teacher education program that does not advertise social justice as one of its goals. Despite such attention, few studies have focused on how preservice teachers have come to understand what teaching for equity and social justice means, particularly as they are learning to teach literacy. To address this absence, in this article I engage with the following questions: (a) What is the nature of participants' ethics on teaching for social justice? And, how do participants' ethics take shape as a result of their life experiences? (b) What are the limitations of participants' ethics in terms of their teaching for social justice? And, what possible implications for teacher education are presented by tracing teachers' ethics through their life histories?


To speak to these questions, I share the life history of one preservice teacher, Julie Robbins. (1) In my discussion of Julie's life experiences with literacy and cultural difference, I dynamically engage with the work of educational researchers who seek to understand teachers' lives and experiences (e.g., Alsup, 2006; Clandinin & Connelly, 1995; Cole & Knowles, 2001; Florio-Ruane, 2001; Goodson, 1992; Goodson & Sikes, 2001; Lyons & LaBoskey, 2002; Middleton, 1993; Munro, 1998) and literacy researchers who comprise the New Literacy Studies (e.g., Barton, 1994; Cook-Gumperz, 1986; Gee, 1996; Heath, 1983; Luke, 1988; Street, 1984). Working from different disciplinary perspectives, both groups of researchers address the relation of individuals' local categorical identities (i.e., race, class, gender, etc.) to broader social, cultural, and historical milieu. Drawing together these two frameworks has offered me a framework for understanding the preservice teachers I teach.

Studying Teachers' Lives

This project is grounded in principles of life history research developed by Casey (1993), Goodson (1992), Goodson and Sikes (2001), Middleton (1993), and others who have sought "to place biography at the center of the teaching practice, the study of teachers, and the teacher education process" (Carter & Doyle, 1996, p. 120). In this approach, processes of learning to teach, along with teachers' work, experiences, instructional choices, and ethics toward teaching, are apprehended through teachers' life spans and life stories (cf. Carter & Doyle, 1996, p. 120). This focus on the particularities of preservice teachers' experiences through personal retrospection is useful for gathering information about the material, political, social, and economic contexts in which preservice teachers matured, learned literacy, and encountered individuals from diverse cultural backgrounds. With this knowledge, teacher educators might be in a better position to offer preservice teachers opportunities in which they might work together to understand how cultural knowledge is transmitted through literacy. Likewise, teacher educators might be able to understand better how preservice teachers' early experiences supported and/or constrained them in developing an ethics toward teaching that is grounded in equity and social justice. …

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