Embracing the Tensions
In recent years, the theme of social justice in teacher education programs has been the subject of considerable controversy, as it has become at once more popular and more vulnerable to criticism. More and more teacher education programs claim to prepare teachers to teach for social justice. Yet we know little about the experience of teacher candidates learning to teach in programs with explicit social justice agendas, and we know little about the impact of this agenda on teachers, and in turn, on the students they teach. This dissertation aims to increase our understanding of what it means for teacher candidates/graduates to be prepared in a teacher education program with a stated commitment to social justice. By focusing in depth on two cases studies with very different outcomes, my study examines the impact of this agenda on teachers and the students they teach over a relatively long period of time. A qualitative case study design was employed to collect and analyze data for two master's level teacher candidates/graduates over three years. Data included extensive interviews and observations, teacher candidates' coursework, the assignments the teachers created, and their students work in response to these assignments. In addition, interviews were conducted with teacher education faculty, as well as with cooperating teachers, mentors, supervisors, and principals. Based on a sociocultural framework, and drawing on Bakhtin's theories of discourse and ideological becoming, this dissertation argues that learning to teach in a program with a stated social justice agenda was a complex process of negotiating several different and, at times, competing discourses of social justice. These discourses represented a range of ideas, interpretations, and practices that the teachers had to investigate and adapt as they developed their own authentic perspective. Furthermore, the development of an authentic perspective as teachers for social justice required embracing tensions within and among these discourses, and recognizing that these tensions were essential to their development as educators for social justice. Finally, this dissertation argues that the case study teachers' relative success or failure engaging in this ideological struggle was influenced by the contexts in which their learning took place, the support they had to negotiate the challenges and tensions associated with learning to teach for social justice, and their own personal capacity to handle the conflicts they encountered.