Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Developing Socially Just Teachers: The Interaction of Experiences before, during, and after Teacher Preparation in Beginning Urban Teachers

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Developing Socially Just Teachers: The Interaction of Experiences before, during, and after Teacher Preparation in Beginning Urban Teachers

Article excerpt

Many teacher education programs, particularly those focused on preparing teachers for urban schools, use "social justice" as a conceptual framework for their work (Kapustka, Howell, Clayton, & Thomas, 2009; Kaur, 2012; Zeichner & Flessner, 2009). However, there remains a lack of clarity and consistency across these programs on what "teaching for social justice" means and what experiences support its development (Castro, 2010). Furthermore, few studies have looked at the development of socially just teachers over time or attempted to link particular elements of a teacher education program to the enactment of socially just teaching practices. In one longitudinal study, Cochran-Smith and her colleagues (2009) found that most graduates of their program organized around a social justice theme were holding students to high expectations and connecting curriculum to their students' cultural backgrounds and experiences, but few were engaged in any "structural critique" (p. 373) or activism around unfair school practices. Differences across their cases were not linked to any specific features in their preparation program or differences in their background experiences. In another study, Agarwal, Epstein, Oppenheim, Oyler, and Sonu (2010) examined the teaching practices of 12 graduates of their "social reconstructionist" (p. 238) preparation program. However, their study focused more on obstacles these teachers faced rather than how their practices linked to prior experiences.

In contrast, this article reports on an exploratory study that investigated how 12 graduates from one justice-oriented preparation program were conceptualizing socially just teaching after a year of teaching in an urban school and how they perceived that various experiences before, during, and after their program were influencing their socially just teaching practices.

Theoretical and Research Frameworks

Justice-Oriented Teacher Education and Culturally Responsive Teaching (CRT)

Within the context of inequitable educational opportunities, particularly along lines of race, ethnicity, language, gender, and socioeconomic class, socially just teacher education aims to prepare teachers to teach in culturally responsive ways and also act as critical change agents in schools and society. Literature on justice-oriented teacher education and CRT (Gay, 2000; Irvine, 2003; Ladson-Billings, 2001, 2009; Morrison, Robbins, & Rose, 2008; Villegas & Lucas, 2002) suggests that socially just teachers

* hold high academic and behavioral expectations for all in a rigorous curriculum,

* create classroom climates that are warm and demanding,

* affirm and sustain their students' cultural backgrounds by drawing from their "funds of knowledge" (languages, histories, cultural practices),

* connect with their students' families and communities,

* advocate for curricular and policy changes that promote more equitable educational opportunities,

* help students identify and critique historical and contemporary examples of injustice, and

* empower students to actively work toward social change.

With varied levels of emphasis, justice-oriented teacher educators (Cochran-Smith et al., 2009; Picower, 20ll; Zeichner & Flessner, 2009) stress the importance of the social and political activism embodied in those final three practices. Teachers must be prepared not only to work with individual students in their classrooms but also to step out of their classrooms and actively seek change in school and societal policies and practices that unfairly marginalize some students by social class, race, language, and other markers of difference. Less clear in the literature, however, is how such activism can be enacted in the early years of teaching and what experiences in and out of teacher education programs promote its development.

Authentic Versus Critical Caring

Related to this work on socially just teaching and CRT is literature on critical caring (Beauboeuf-Lafontant, 2005; Roberts, 2010; Rolon-Dow, 2005; Valenzuela, 1999). …

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