Educating Klaren: neoliberal ideology in teacher education impacting candidate preparation and the teaching of science to Black students

February, 2022

Source: Cultural Studies of Science Education volume 17, issue 1, pages 9–29

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this study, the author looks at a global phenomenon such as neoliberalism at the local level of teacher education and classroom teaching and shows its effects on one teacher candidate’s thinking and development as an elementary teacher and teaching science to Black or African American (used interchangeably in the study) children in the elementary classroom.
Similar to Bazzul’s (2012) argument that science educators must understand neoliberalism and how its ideology pervades science education at the level of discourse, this study looks at the discourse used by the teacher candidate to reveal subtle notions of neoliberal ideology when learning to teach and teaching science.
This case study is important for understanding at the political, pedagogical, and institutional levels the appropriate experiences needed to educate and prepare teacher candidates entering teaching as a profession and to support their understanding of diversity and equity in education.
This study on another level addresses the dispositions debate and that of social justice in teacher education (Villegas 2007) as it also deals with neoliberalism and neoconservative ideology on teacher education and its effects on science teaching.
The research question for this study is: What are the subtle ways that neoliberal ideology shows up in science teacher education when preparing one teacher candidate for teaching science and teaching Black children?

Documenting Klaren’s case
At the end of the course, Klaren submitted all assignments she completed during the semester in the science methods course: her microteaching final paper, science lesson plans, course readings reflection papers, Book Club reflections, and two final projects–her science teaching electronic portfolio (e-portfolio) and mini-brochure project.
She also included drawings for analysis of her teacher/science teacher identity, and pre-/post-course questionnaires.
From this collection, four primary data sources were selected for this case study: the final microteaching paper, the e-portfolio and mini-brochure final projects, and a semi-structured interview.
The other sources were supplementary and offered contextual information to support the primary sources.
The final microteaching paper was a cumulative assignment where Klaren reflected on her experiences planning and teaching a science lesson, observations in the school placement, and overall learning from the methods course.
The teaching e-portfolio assignment was a collection and review of meaningful artifacts and activities done over the semester.
She articulated her science teaching philosophy, which included images as well as reflective comments on how she met course goals and objectives.
The mini-brochure project, or the “portfolio-at-a-glance,” was a smaller version of the science e-portfolio.
In this assignment, Klaren posed the question, “Why is science important in the elementary grades?” where she focused on “reflective practice, technology, and diversity.”
Finally, they conducted a semi-structured interview that took place a few days after the semester ended.
The interview lasted 80 min.
During the interview, they discussed chronologically her experiences in education from elementary school to her current position as a teacher candidate in her teacher education program.
Because they talked frequently during the semester, the interview felt more like an extension of their regular conversations, but this time the conversation was recorded for purposes of this case study.
All data sources were accumulated to form a digital case record, which was the “raw case data organized, classified, and edited into a manageable and accessible file” for analysis (Patton 2002, p. 450).
Analysis procedures followed qualitative data consistent with methods of constructivist grounded theory (Charmaz, 2014) and coding for emergent themes (Creswell and Poth 2018).
Following this initial process of open and axial coding, comparative techniques were done to elucidate how Klaren’s experiences over time in the methods course were evidence of learning, development of professional dispositions, ideas of social justice, and teaching Black children.

Educating for underlying ideologies
With the influences of neoliberal and neoconservative ideology on teacher education (Rodriguez and Magill, 2016), teacher candidates are likely to enter teacher education programs with these views either fully developed or hidden under calls for inclusion, change, equity, and social justice.
In essence, these views may be subtle, such as underestimating the knowledge, role, and responsibilities of teaching; thinking that obtaining knowledge and skills of teaching can be achieved in a short time or with little preparation; viewing teaching as “managing and coaching” children and following a scripted curriculum; or calling forth a desire to change the educational system without knowledge of teaching, education, or children.
Newcomers to the profession of teaching may think that becoming a teacher is not challenging and skills in one career will easily transfer into their teacher preparation and teaching of young people.
Moreover, subtle views may also be seen where teaching has no room for flexibility, creativity, and professional autonomy, but simply keeping to managing, organizing, and being a technician of teaching (McInerdy 2012).
Klaren enters her teacher education program and the elementary science methods course with many of these ideas that lean toward neoliberalism-neoconservatism in very subtle ways, but they are evident in her discourse and practice as a teacher candidate.
Her background in corporate America and limited experience in teaching and knowledge of teaching as a profession prevent her from taking full advantage of experiences to gain deeper and personal understandings of teaching, learning, and children that are necessary for developing professional dispositions in teaching for equity and diversity.
Thus, as teacher educators, when we reframe the purpose of a “first course” in teacher education, or we admit “newcomers” into education, we must consider ways to dig deeper into the possible impact these subtle notions of neoliberal and neoconservative ideology play on our teacher candidates and what ideologies they bring to our courses and programs.
Cherin Lee and Lisa Krapfl (2002) contend that “it is difficult for one course to have much effect on changing a future teacher’s conception of teaching” (p. 248), as several researchers note this because changing beliefs is a difficult process and can often be “unchanged, or inert” (Tillema 2000), or “resistant” (Rodriguez 1998).
However, rather than working to change resistant behaviors, we should work at educating teacher candidates about their underlying ideologies, political stances, and pedagogical views they bring into teacher education, and how these ideologies influence their preparation and identities as teachers (Mensah 2009) as well as how they view culturally diverse students (Atwater, Freeman, Butler, and Draper-Morris 2010), especially when considering student and teacher race (Milner, 2003).
Not seeing teacher candidates as resistant learners, but believing that all teacher candidates can learn, teacher education, therefore, must provide numerous educative experiences, from knowledge construction to classroom teaching to student relationships, that is done within an equity and social justice framework, where experiences and assignments build upon each other in the development of a professional teaching practice.
Consequently, teacher candidates may question their learning and readiness for teaching and adjust how they believe they can be effective multicultural educators.
In Klaren’s case, after one year of teaching in a suburban classroom, she opted out of the profession.

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Updated: Jun. 28, 2022