Beginning teachers’ narratives, coping with social justice


Source: European Journal of Teacher Education, 43:3, 318-332

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The purpose of this article is to present two stories written by beginning teachers on social justice in the classroom and the public space.
Through their stories, the authors examine two main questions:
What process do beginning teachers undergo in coping with injustices committed to their students?
And how do they act in cases of social injustice that arise in their work?

Research methodology

Data collection: selection of stories for the study

In this study, the authors examine two narratives that were selected out of hundreds of stories submitted to a story competition for beginning teachers.
The competition was handled by the Israeli Ministry of Education’s Division for Induction and Entry into Teaching during the years 2010–2015.
All beginning teachers from all over Israel were invited to write about their experiences in their first year in the Israeli school system.
A reflection of the multicultural Israeli society, the Israeli school system is made up of different tracks, including Arab schools and state-religious and state-secular Jewish schools.
The writers were representative of the entire population of new teachers at the preschool, elementary and secondary levels in all tracks of the school system.
They were all graduates of teacher education programs at colleges of education and universities in Israel.
The stories accepted for the competition were anonymous and were submitted to a panel of three lecturers in literature at universities and colleges of education, and two representatives from the Ministry of Education’s Division for Induction and Entry into Teaching.
Two criteria guided the evaluation process: literary quality and representation of the profession world.
The descriptions of educational practice in the stories reflected the professional experiences of first-year teachers, among them the encounter with students; the teaching of required subjects; and the need to cope with organisational culture.
The purpose of the competition was to learn what happens to new teachers during the first year of teaching; to enable them to make their voices heard and, in turn, to hear them; and to provide an opportunity for the system to learn from their experiences and to structure the pedagogical and organisational aspects of teacher education in keeping with the needs of the individual and the system.
The stories were published between 2010 and 2015 (Schatz-Oppenheimer and Zilbershtrum 2010 and 2015).
The researchers read all the stories which included several issues from the world of beginning teachers.
They identified 10 stories in which social justice was the principal theme.

Findings and discussion

Practices of beginning teachers on issues of social justice
Findings show that beginning teachers are dealing with injustices committed against immigrant students, and seeking to help them integrate successfully at school as part of a general pursuit of social justice.
The study highlights their experience in confronting incidents of discrimination, and their ability to find solutions despite the complications described in previous studies, among them, the difficulties beginning teachers have in coping with running a classroom and the problem of fostering an open cultural dialogue among students and building classes that confront injustice and inequality (Chubbuck 2010; Hess 2005; Johnson, Oppenheim, and Suh 2009).
Findings revealed two prominent themes in cases of social injustice: critical reflection on inclusion and exclusion, and action for social justice.
Critical reflection evokes identification with the hardships of the excluded pupils.
In the first story it is reflected in the positions of the immigrant-student, revealing his exclusion, loneliness, and scholastic and social difficulties in the classroom and at the memorial ceremony.
In the second story, the critical reflection is focused on the hardships suffered by the student in both the public space and his home environment – injustices that can put him at risk.
In both cases, reflections set in motion processes, bring the immigrant-student to the forefront, transform him from ‘invisible’ to ‘visible,’ and give meaning to the professional role of beginning teachers in response to social injustice (Green 2013).
Arguably, critical reflection prompts the beginning teacher to act for social justice.
The actions in pursuit of social justice are varied.
In the first story, the beginning teacher makes use of coursework and didactic practices to create an atmosphere of respect for ‘the other’ (Agarwall et al. 2010).
Curriculum is an important tool for bringing out different or suppressed voices in the classroom, constructing a multicultural pedagogy, and imparting values (Banks 1995).
In the second story, mobilisation of various parties at the school system level is a form of struggle against injustice, and helps to include the students in the school system and society (Picower 2011; Zeichner and Flessner 2009).

Contribution of beginning teachers’ stories about social justice, and the ramifications for teacher education
Findings confirm that not only veteran teachers but also beginning teachers have the opportunity and take the responsibility to implement practices for social justice (Cochran-Smith et al. 2016).
The authors argue that the construction of social justice ideology and practices can begin at the level of teacher education.
Teacher education programs should tackle these issues at two main levels: the individual level and the level of teachers’ role functions in the school system.
Both levels include the student teachers’ perception and their practice of social justice, and relate to the children and the notion of otherness (Cochran-Smith et al. 2016).
In an era of globalisation and increasing popularity of the achievement-oriented neoliberal approach centred on competition, assessment, and standardisation, school systems and teacher-education institutions alike must fill the need for teaching social justice.
The beginning teachers whose stories are told in this paper acted out of a ‘gut feeling’ and not a clearcut, formal ideology; this situation can be remedied by dealing with social justice in teacher education programs.
One way to do so is to use narrative pedagogy in the context of societal justice.
Both the writing of students’ life stories and the reading of beginning teachers’ narratives, as set forth in this article, can be a pedagogical strategy for teacher educators.
Narrative pedagogy in teacher education provides a space in which to connect experiences both inside and outside the school with perceptions, practices and professional knowledge (Elbaz-Luwisch 2010; Schaefer and Clandinin 2019).
Likewise, life stories about social justice problems and dilemmas can trigger dialogue about social justice, contribute to coping with emotions and reduce the stigmatising of foreigners.
The main implication of this article is the use made by the beginning teacher of the student’s own narrative to bolster the message of social justice, which points to the power of personal stories and the need to integrate them in the curriculum in the teacher education system.
Those engaged in teacher education who aim to promote social justice should develop syllabi and practices that develop critical reflection.
Furthermore, teacher educators should promote awareness in their trainees of their responsibility not only to teach, but also to understand and seek cooperation with the school authorities and system. Teacher training course syllabi should present the cultures of various ethnic groups and minorities and reflect the conceptual, social and political differences that exist in society (Mayo and Larke 2011; Ramaekers 2010).

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Updated: Dec. 29, 2020