Pathways to Critical Consciousness: A First-Year Teacher’s Engagement With Issues of Race and Equity

Dec. 24, 2009

Source: Journal of Teacher Education, 60(5), p. 528–537. (November/December 2009). (Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this article, the author asserts that critical racial consciousness is cultivated by context and performed—and often performed differently in different settings. The process of critical racial consciousness engagement is complex as well as understudied outside of preservice courses.
The author explores the following question: What are the ways in which a new teacher performs critical racial consciousness in the context of her classroom?


The participant is a white first-year female teacher who teaches fifth-grade inclusion classroom of 17 children in an urban school. Her classroom is diverse in language, ability, race, and ethnicity.


For the purposes of this article, the author draw on one classroom teacher’s narrative. The data were collected primarily from participant observation and open-ended interviewing and focused on interpreting cultural meanings. Furthermore, field notes from classroom observations, transcriptions from interviews, and samples from the classroom teacher’s graduate coursework were surveyed to find instances of text about race or racism.


The author demonstrates how social context shapes her consciousness, providing her with both opportunities and challenges. Jaclyn’s story provides insight as to how one teacher’s identity evolves and shifts with differing events. The findings reveal some of the complexities
involved in engagement with critical consciousness by highlighting events that fall into three themes:

(a) Racial Identity Reflection
The author argues that Jaclyn’s (and others’) racial identity is always in formation in response to her social context. The examples of how Jaclyn performs her racial identity indicate the variety in ways of understanding one’s social location, analysis of oppression, and options for engagement
with an antiracist stance.

(b) Awareness of Inequity
Jaclyn is beginning to identify instances of institutional racism in schools. She makes observations of her school, some of which are prompted by something she read or a seminar she attended. Jaclyn is gaining an awareness of her choices as a political actor but is still uncertain what action she might want to take.

(c) Challenges to Engagement
Staying engaged in a process of developing critical consciousness is fraught with challenges, some of which we are not always aware. In Jaclyn’s case, she faced three types of challenges. The first two were challenges that Jaclyn was well aware of: her own feeling of guilt and the pervasive negative comments about students by some staff at her school. The third challenge, recognizing dominant myths of racism, was not evident to Jaclyn.

These themes demonstrate that most of the ways in which this teacher engages in critical racial consciousness are subtle.

Implications for Preservice Teacher Learning and Beyond

Teacher educators need to understand that the process of critical engagement is contested and affected by context. We need to be active on three fronts: preservice teacher education,
in-service opportunities, and self-reflection.

We must support preservice teachers in their efforts, initiate in-service professional development to support critical engagement, and reflect on our own racial consciousness.

Updated: Mar. 14, 2010