From Ideal to Practice and Back Again: Beginning Teachers Teaching for Social Justice

Jun. 21, 2010

Source: Journal of Teacher Education, 61(3), p. 237–247. (May/June 2010).
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this article, the authors investigate whether and how recent graduates of an elementary preservice teacher education program enacted social justice curricula.

Participants and Method

The authors designed a multicase study to follow 12 recent graduates of their program into their beginning teaching placements. 12 doctoral students participated in the study as co-researchers. Each doctoral student learned about the practices of one beginning teacher through observations and interviews.

This research design is based on the authors’ assumption of the uniqueness and storied nature of teachers’ experiences (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000).
In particular, political understandings are the result of one’s life story and social location. The graduates who participated in the study, were working in schools with differing levels of racial and socioeconomic diversity.


The authors highlight the stories of three beginning teachers.

The conceptions of the beginning teachers revealed that the they were motivated by ideals of open, deliberative dialogue and a realignment of problematic social hierarchies. Their practices, as observed in their classrooms, often reflected aspects of their visions. Yet the teachers all articulated different disconnections they felt between their ideals and their practices.

The findings suggest that beginning teachers enter a complex enterprise wrought with tensions, conflicts, and contradictions when they aim to translate their conceptions into viable pedagogy. Many of the hindrances they described are attributable to the complexity of everyday teaching, which is intensified for beginning teachers, yet they reflect the even greater ambiguity around teaching for social justice.

The teachers’ reflections on their conceptions and practices show their desire to advocate for social change through classroom pedagogy. The teachers attempt to build cooperative classroom communities, and monitor their authority to allow for the expression of student voice. Clearly, they set standards for their ideal classrooms.


The authors argue that preservice teacher educators should consider the following recommendations as they prepare beginning teachers.

Elucidate the inevitable struggles around teaching for social justice.
The authors suggest that teacher education programs carve out space for discussions that help teachers to see teaching for social justice as a journey, not a finished product. This will help beginning teachers understand or even deflect their frustrations when they face the hindrances that will get in the way of their visions.

Scaffold opportunities for student teachers to practice reflective thinking skills.

Explore resources in teacher education classrooms to plan social reconstructionist curricula enactments. Teacher educators should make space in their syllabi for texts, materials, and speakers that either detail a social justice curricular vision in action or can be used to create such plans.

Clandinin, D. J., & Connelly, F. M. (2000). Narrative inquiry: Experience and story in qualitative research. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Updated: Jul. 18, 2010