Finding Freedom in Dialectic Inquiry: New Teachers’ Responses to Silencing

Apr. 30, 2009

Source: Teachers College Record, Volume 111 Number 4, 2009, p. 1030-1064.


The need to support new teachers in urban public schools is well established, given current shortages and research that highlights serious issues with teacher retention. Debate continues about approaches to support for new teachers, including questions about the importance of developing an inquiry stance toward teaching. As more teacher preparation and professional development programs adopt inquiry-based methods, the theory and practice of these approaches deserve close analysis. Examining the ways in which inquiry-based programs strengthen or constrain new teacher agency is an important step in understanding the relationship between teacher retention and the deprofessionalization of teaching.

Focus of Study

The paper describes two groups of new teachers who experienced the inquiry-based programs of support in which they participated as silencing and uncritical. The authors argue that even in the best-intentioned programs, inquiry can become a fixed method in which the new teachers’ voice and agency are lost. In each study, the new teachers worked to reclaim voice and agency through dialectic inquiry. The authors characterize this inquiry as local, self-reflexive, and able to embrace the tensions that mark many teaching situations.

Research Design: The paper draws on two yearlong practitioner research studies conducted with new teachers who were participating in structures intended to support their development as critical, reflective practitioners.


Given the nature of teaching as a profession, the authors argue that dialectic inquiry can help new teachers develop important attributes of agency and critique. The authors recommend on inquiry-based teacher development programs that remain flexible and reflective and are able to support new teachers in a profession that can be silencing.

Updated: Mar. 16, 2009