Teachers as Civic Agents: Toward a Critical Democratic Theory of Urban Teacher Development

Sep. 20, 2011

Source: Journal of Teacher Education, 62(4), 408-420. Septembeer/October, 2011 
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

Through an analysis of theories of democracy, schooling, and teacher education, this work aims to present an alternative vision of teaching, one that the authors call “Teacher as Civic Agent.”
This term marks an important theoretical shift from viewing quality teaching and learning as that which prepares students to succeed economically to that which prepares students to become self-actualized and critically empowered civic agents.
It also redefines teachers as active civic role models and public intellectuals engaged in collective, critical work.
In this article, the authors will explore the “Teacher as Civic Agent” through the analysis of the Council of Youth Research.
This study seeks to provide a new rationale for democratic teacher education and a revitalization of the civic purposes of schooling.

The article addresses to the following questions:
1. What sorts of learning communities are needed to help teachers develop as civic agents?
2. How do teachers practice critical civic agency in the Council of Youth Research?
3. How do teachers translate their practice from the Council of Youth Research into their work in traditional urban classrooms?


The authors provide a case study of the Council of Youth research, a community of practice , that seeks to redefine teachers as public intellectuals and civic leaders.
The authors draw on several pieces of data that they have collected and analyzed over the years.
The data included 60-minute semi-structured teacher interviews with all of the current participating teachers and field notes from participant observation over the 12 years of Council activity.
Other sources of data include student work products, council planning documents, and classroom observations.

The Council of Youth Research (1999-2011)

The Council of Youth Research is a community of high school students, teachers, university professors, and graduate student researchers committed to conducting research aimed at improving the conditions in urban schools and injecting the voices of young people into conversations around education policy and reform.

The Council creates a supportive environment in which students can become critical researchers of their own schools and communities through offering intensive, graduate-level five-week seminars over the summer and weekly meetings during the school year.

The authors' work with the Council of Youth Research has led them toward findings in two areas of teacher learning that are inextricably linked—teacher identity and teacher classroom practice. Participation in this project influences how teachers view themselves as professionals and civic agents, which in turn impacts the way that they conceptualize their classroom instruction. In keeping with the tenets of critical democratic theory, the authors aim to demonstrate the ways in which teachers come to see themselves and their work in more collective, productive, and engaged ways.

Implications for Teacher Education

The authors are advocating for a definition of highly qualified teachers as public intellectuals who help students connect what they learn in school to civic agency and empowerment outside of school.
This definition repositions both teachers and students as powerful producers of knowledge and it expands the curriculum to include what we call the pedagogy of the city.
This community-centered pedagogy will lead to increased motivation and engagement and student academic development, and it will also enhance relationships between students and teachers and between teachers and communities.

The authors argue for new paradigm of teacher education in which teachers engage with local communities, become producers of knowledge, and work collectively in solidarity with their students to create social change.
They claim that colleges of teacher education have to engage students and communities as much as possible, and we must create supportive networks of educators that help teachers create shared knowledge with students and communities.

They argue that a meaningful professional learning community would allow for more dialogue and collaboration across these multiple constituencies.

Finally, the authors argue that we must develop alternate spaces, such as the Council of Youth Research.
Furthermore, teachers and teachers educators must investigate these spaces and share their work with multiple audiences to translate the ideas from these experimental programs into the everyday practices inside of credential programs, professional development, and graduate degree programs that target practicing teachers.

Updated: Mar. 03, 2014