Getting “Up to Code”: Preparing for and Confronting Challenges when Teaching for Social Justice in Standards-Based Classrooms

May. 15, 2013

Source: Action in Teacher Education, Volume 35, Issue 2, p. 89–102, 2013
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This article presents the results of a recent qualitative study examining how P–12 teachers enact their visions of teaching for social justice through curricular and pedagogical practices that meet, and often exceed, local accountability mandates.

The author used two primary methods to collect the data: questionnaires and lesson plans
submitted and analyzed by the participants
The participants were twenty-four teachers, representing 13 states.
These teachers had between 1 and 38 years of experience teaching secondary English Language Art (ELA). Most participants were White (84%) and female (84%).

Discussion and Implications

The teachers in this study were able to effectively enact their social justice visions through ambitious, standards-based practice.
Their curriculum was broad and deep, reflected best practices in teaching ELA, and prepared students to meet state and district accountability mandates.
However, teachers also reported challenges imposed by restrictive curricular policies, resistance from students and colleagues, inadequate preparation and support, and insufficient resources.

Teachers in this study described an array of strategies for addressing these challenges. Those facing restrictive curricular mandates emphasized the positive academic impacts of and content-based rationale for teaching for social justice.
Participants understood administrators’ and colleagues’ resistance to teaching for social justice as representative of one of two factors:
(1) their lack of understanding of teaching for social justice and
(2) their political opposition to the practice.

In large part, the challenges reflect tensions regarding national educational priorities as well as critics’ efforts to portray social justice education as unnecessary, ill suited to the goals of public education and politically biased.
Furthermore, many participants highlighted the importance of professional development related to teaching for social justice; this is especially critical given the range in participants’ degree of confidence regarding their role as social justice advocates/activists.

This study has several implications for teacher education.
First, this study identified curricular, pedagogical, interpersonal, and institutional challenges associated with teaching for social justice.
Specifically, the author sees a need for additional pre- and in-service professional development regarding curricular and pedagogical strategies for teaching for social justice in standards-based contexts.
Second, teacher educators must explicitly engage candidates in exploring potential internal, interpersonal, and curricular challenges associated with teaching for social justice in contemporary educational contexts.

The author argues that there is a need for pre-and in-service training that prepares teachers to articulate and advocate for their practice.
The pressures imposed by current accountability and standardization movements are significant; however, strong teachers are able teach critically and creatively within and despite the current climate.
The author concludes that teacher educators must prepare their candidates to translate their social justice visions into concrete curricular and pedagogical practices, effectively negotiate restrictive mandates, and articulate how their work prepares diverse students to achieve success in their multiple academic, social, and societal roles.

Updated: May. 11, 2015