Against the Unchallenged Discourse of Homelessness: Examining the Views of Early Childhood Preservice Teachers

Oct. 01, 2013

Source: Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, Volume 34, Issue 4, p. 291–307, 2013.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study examines how preservice teachers perceived homelessness and children experiencing homelessness.
It focuses on preservice teachers’ experiences with the dominant discourses about homelessness and addresses how early childhood educators can support preservice teachers in preparing to teach children experiencing homelessness in their future classrooms.

Thirteen early childhood preservice teachers were actively involved in class discussion, reading, doing class assignments, and visiting homeless shelters as community-based field experience.
They were asked to participate in focus groups, and six of them also participated in individual interviews.
All participants were traditional college-age seniors, some of whom were double majoring in elementary education.
They were all White, middle-class females who had rarely experienced working with children from low-income backgrounds.
All of them reported that this was their first visit to a homeless shelter.


This study attempted to show how the preservice teachers’ views have been governed by the public discourses.
At the same time, it attempted to contribute to how early childhood teacher education programs can address homelessness.
The data showed that the images of homelessness held by the preservice teachers closely overlapped with public discourses of homelessness.
The image of children as being homeless even did not exist in the conception of homelessness that the preservice teachers initially held.
Their knowledge of homelessness was very limited and inaccurate, such that children experiencing homelessness and their families were initially interpreted as being dysfunctional and abnormal.

This study suggests that homelessness should be included in the discourse of early childhood teacher education, as well as in professional development.
The findings reveal that the preservice teachers rarely thought about homelessness and children experiencing homelessness, paralleling widespread public stereotypes about and indifference to homelessness.
Additionally, the most important first step would be raising awareness of homelessness.
To do so, early teacher education programs should provide enough accurate information about children experiencing homelessness for preservice teachers to understand what homelessness means, and advocate for children experiencing homelessness in school in many ways.

The authors argue that early childhood teacher educators should provide various opportunities for preservice teachers to rethink the taken-for-granted discourse of homelessness resonating throughout our society.
The data revealed that the initial image of children experiencing homelessness and their families that the preservice teachers held clearly showed that homelessness is socially constructed and still left unchallenged in the society.
The preservice teachers tended to judge children and families experiencing homelessness according to the universal norms of individuality and self-reliance valued in Western societies. From the perspectives of the preservice teachers, those children and families fell within the categorical representation of abnormal, dysfunctional, or at-risk groups.

Given a deep understanding of homelessness and a critical perspective on the public discourse toward homelessness, rather than just a sympathetic and charitable attitude, children can better learn about how to understand others who may experience homelessness. Critical perspectives can also allow teachers to break out of the continuum of intervention discourses toward homelessness which currently governs us and move forward.
The authors also recommend that the concept of home should be reexamined in the early childhood education curriculum.
The places and spaces children occupy should be sensitively discussed in early childhood education curricula.

Finally, they claim that collaborative partnerships with community members (e.g., school districts, schools, and local agencies) are critical for the school experiences of children experiencing homelessness.
In particular, community-based field experiences in collaboration with the community is one way to promote preservice teachers’ critical inquiry into the dominant discourses about homelessness and rethinking their own perceptions about homelessness.
Given the increasing number of people experiencing homelessness here and now, it is very critical that we, as teacher educators, look closely preservice teachers’ beliefs and attitudes toward homelessness.
Along with this, to prepare competent teachers for children from different backgrounds, especially children experiencing homelessness, early childhood teacher education programs should encourage preservice teachers to challenge the current dominant discourse of children experiencing homelessness.

Updated: Nov. 16, 2015