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"It's dangerous to be a scholar-activist these days": becoming a teacher educator amidst the hydra of teacher education.

When I first met Jamie, she was a student in a curriculum and instruction doctoral program with a focus on mathematics education. Jamie was also wrestling with how to infuse her interests in social justice, feminist theory, and Latin@ education into a traditionally male-dominated, White, and quantitative field like mathematics. "Some days I know what I want to do," she told me during an interview, "and other days, I have no idea what the hell I'm doing or want to do ... or how to do it, actually." One of Jamie's struggles was that, as a doctoral student at a public institution, she saw firsthand how federal and state policies for teacher preparation impacted her professors and their programs. "What I don't understand is how you do everything," she continued, "how you manage to be a scholar-activist and how you also write reports and crunch numbers and make sure they don't take your funding away. And, at the same time as all this, do research that you feel like matters to you and to the world. That's what I need help figuring out."

Novice teacher educators like Jamie are coming of age professionally in a complex time, a time of "lethal threats" (Weiner, 2007, p. 274) and "assaults" on teacher preparation (Sleeter, 2008, p. 1947). In the era of standardization and accountability, colleges of education are no longer immune to the influence of policies and practices that have been affecting PK-12 instruction and assessment for decades (CochranSmith, Piazza, & Power, 2013; Groenke & Hatch, 2009; Kumashiro, 2010; Sleeter, 2008; Weiner, 2007; Zeichner, 2010). In fact, "movements to end teacher education by framing it as irrelevant have deep historical roots and, in recent years, have become quite commonsensical, so much so that even teacher educators struggle to reframe the debate" (Kumashiro, 2010, p. 56). These threats or movements, in practice, look like the establishment of strict accountability roles, new value-added measures that tie funding for teacher education programs to the eventual test scores of graduates' PK-12 students, and public critiques to teacher education from well-funded and well-connected organizations like the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ). Other threats come in the form of growing alternative certification programs, like Teach For America, or even the closing of reputable traditional teacher preparation programs (Dunn & Faison, 2015). Zeichner (2014) sees such reforms as evidence of a "deregulation and privatisation agenda" (p. 551).

Amid this climate, what does it mean to prepare the next generation of teacher educators when so many professors are feeling the same stifling pressures as PK-12 teachers? Does the climate affect their morale or commitments? What of the teacher educators who consider themselves social justice advocates? Does such a climate hinder or enhance their commitment to educational equity and justice? These are the questions that led me to study current graduate students and recent graduates (whom I term teacher educators for social justice) of two education doctoral programs, both with a stated commitment to equity.

In this qualitative case study of novice teacher educators in the southeastern United States, I investigated the following research questions: (a) What are the experiences of new teacher educators for social justice, as they relate to their doctoral preparation? and (b) What is the relationship between new teacher educator development and the current landscape of teacher education? In what follows, I contextualize this inquiry within the literature on the preparation of teacher educators and a theoretical framework of teacher educator development.

Literature Review

Research has continuously shown how important it is for new teachers to be able to work with diverse student populations (Banks, 2015; Nieto, 1992), finding that their preparation should include a focus on social justice pedagogies and dispositions (Irvine, 2003; Ladson-Billings, 2000; McAllister & Irvine, 2000; Sleeter, 2001; Villegas & Lucas, 2002). Teachers who possess such knowledge are better able to incorporate pedagogical strategies for students from many different backgrounds and improve the academic achievement of all students (Ladson-Billings, 2009; Ware, 2006). Teaching for social justice at the PK-12 level is not easy, however, and is rife with challenges (Bell, 2002; Cochran-Smith, 2004; Kumashiro, 2015). One might imagine that preparing people to teach others how to engage in this complicated endeavor is even more difficult. Yet we know little about who takes on that complicated endeavor or how they are prepared to do so. That is, who is teaching our teachers, and how are they taught?

In 2014, the Journal of Teacher Education published a special issue on the preparation and professional development of teacher educators, a relatively unexplored field of research. Though we know much about preparing teachers for PK-12 classrooms, we know comparatively little about how teacher educators are prepared. As Goodwin et al. (2014) have argued, there is "hardly a murmur" about this population, and "the absence of a codified knowledge base for teacher educator preparation is glaring" (p. 284). Hollins, Luna, and Lopez (2014) agreed: "How teacher educators learn to facilitate teacher learning or learning teaching is not well understood and there are few studies that address this issue" (p. 99). The existing research, as it stands, argues that (a) the state of teacher educator preparation is lagging; (b) successful PK-12 teaching is not sufficient for successful practice as a teacher educator; and (c) additional research is needed about what it takes to best prepare and support successful teacher educators. Thus the literature reveals more about what is missing than about what is present in this body of knowledge.

First, current research argues that current teacher educator preparation is minimal to nonexistent. That is, "many universities today treat teacher education as a self-evident activity" (Zeichner, 2005, p. 118), and "teacher educators are generally left to learn what they can from observation, self-reflection, and self-study" (Hollins et al., 2014, p. 100). While there is little existing research about what a pedagogy of teacher education looks like in practice, in theory, it "involves a knowledge of teaching about teaching and a knowledge of learning about teaching and how the two influence one another" (Loughran, 2005, p. 1180). Goodwin et al. (2014) contended that teacher educator preparation needs to include knowledge for practice, in practice, and of practice, yet there is much debate as to what exactly constitutes "good" practice (for discussions of these complexities, see, e.g., Kennedy, 2010; Labaree, 2000). Because of these difficulties, some argue that teacher educator preparation needs its own specialized base of knowledge (Knight et al., 2014; Superfine & Li, 2014). Others have identified certain dispositions, forms of knowledge, and skills that teacher educators need to undertake "the great responsibility of preparing teachers for today's diverse classroom" (Prater & Devereaux, 2009, p. 25).

In the largest and most comprehensive study of teacher educators and their preparation to date, Goodwin et al. (2014) analyzed 293 surveys and 20 follow-up interviews with new teacher educators about their experiences in doctoral programs and if and how they felt prepared for the field. Data revealed "(a) happenstance in becoming engaged in teacher education, (b) luck related to doctoral experiences, and (c) lack of explicit development of teaching skills or pedagogies related to teacher educating" (p. 291). These findings illustrate the complex nature of teacher preparation amid research-focused doctoral programs, the individualized nature of one's experiences becoming a teacher educator, and the lack of structured opportunities for learning about the field and practices of teacher education. This study complements the work of Goodwin et al. by offering (a) an analysis of doctoral students' experiences, as well as first-year professors'; (b) an explicit focus on teacher education for social justice; and (c) a more explicit discussion of the policy contexts and current landscape of teacher education.

Second, existing research has pointed to the challenges of preparing teacher educators when successful teachers are assumed to be successful teacher educators. Though the field recognizes that being a good student does not necessarily make one a good teacher, the message has not yet translated to the preparation of teacher educators. Instead, "a common taken-for-granted assumption [is] that a good teacher will also make a good teacher educator" (Korthagen, Loughran, & Lunenberg, 2005, p. 110). However, Hollins et al. (2014), building on the work of Zeichner (2005) and Loughran (2006), found that teaching experience in and of itself is necessary, but not sufficient, for producing quality teacher educators. In particular, Hollins et al. (2014) argued that "those hired as teacher educators may not have a natural propensity for independently pursuing the knowledge and understanding necessary for developing competence in facilitating teacher learning and learning teaching" (p. 122).

The assumption that good educators make good teacher educators is a dangerous one to make, because teacher educator preparation comes with its own benefits and challenges (Williams, 2014). Trent (2013) examined the "identity trajectory" as these teacher educators negotiated their own experiences coupled with ideals of agency and marginalization. More positively, Olsen and Buchanan (in press) argued that "the world of the teacher educator" was a unique contextual space in which new teacher educators developed their new identities in concert with their previous strands of development: biography, educational studies, and career history. Another concern is that novice teacher educators may not feel prepared to consider issues such as diversity and multiculturalism (Goodwin et al., 2014). This is troubling to consider, as most teachers are still White and middle class, often with minimal skills dealing with issues of race and culture (Dunn, 2010; Howard, 2006; Picower, 2012). It is critical, then, to prepare teachers who can teach in culturally relevant, responsive, and sustaining ways (Gay, 2000; Ladson-Billings, 1994; Paris, 2012; Sleeter, 2001). But this can only happen if teacher educators are confident in their abilities to engage preservice teachers in often difficult and controversial discussions. Thus doctoral students should be provided with transformative learning experiences of their own to disrupt the constructed consciousness they bring to their own work as teachers of teachers (Vescio, Bondy, & Poekert, 2009).

Finally, studies have pointed to the need for additional research on teacher educator preparation. While Goodwin et al. (2014) found that "interviewees' recommendations for teacher educator preparation converged around four different areas: (a) a strong foundation of educational theories, (b) knowledge about the field of teacher education, (c) intentional mentorship and apprenticeship in teaching and research, and (d) mentoring around professional life in the academy" (p. 293), future scholarship is needed to determine if and how these adaptations to teacher educator preparation would benefit teacher educators, preservice teachers, and, in the long term, PK-12 students (Hollins et al., 2014).

A major gap in existing literature on teacher educator preparation is an inquiry into how teacher educators are trained amidst a climate of accountability in teacher preparation. While there is much literature on how accountability pressures and neoliberal reforms impact PK-12 schooling, with everything from charter schools to teacher merit pay to increased high-stakes testing, neoliberal politics have also made their way from the schoolhouse to the campus. It is first important to understand this neoliberal context in PK-12 schools. Useful here is an image utilized by the New York Collective of Radical Educators (NYCoRE), in which they compared PK-12 neoliberal education reforms to a Hydra (Picower & Mayorga, 2015):

   Those who are familiar with Greek mythology know that the Hydra was
   an immortal multi-headed creature. Any attempt to slay the Hydra
   was a struggle in futility and hopelessness, because if one head
   were removed, the Hydra would grow back two more in its place....
   The Hydra was only finally able to be slain by Heracles because he
   worked together with an ally, his nephew, to remove all the heads
   at once, making it impossible for the decapitated heads to grow
   back. (p. 4)

As Picower and Mayorga (2015) have argued, "each of these Hydra heads was analogous to one of the market-based reforms unfolding in our city," and

   the initial response by those concerned with educational justice
   was to furiously address each individual head by focusing time and
   energy on one after another.... The group realized that focusing
   on one head meant that our attention was often drawn away from the
   larger forces, or Hydra body, driving reform-namely, the form of
   capitalism that some describe as neoliberalism. (p. 4)

Neoliberals view education not as a public good but as a private commodity (Apple, 2006; Chomsky, 1999; Saltman, 2007; Zeichner, 2010). In brief, neoliberal ideology argues for capitalism and competition through free-market economics with the supposed goal of increased equality. Yet decades of research on the impact of neoliberal policies and reforms in education have demonstrated that "neoliberalism has a track record of undermining equity and democracy" (Sleeter, 2008, p. 1947). Such neoliberal ideals and policies shift the focus of what and how not only students but also teachers learn. As a result, there is increased control over the work PK-12 teachers do and "an erosion of academic professionalism" (Hokka & Etelapelto, 2014, p. 40), which results in a general mistrust of teachers (Apple, 2004). Zeichner (2010) argued that neoliberal polices negatively transform the profession by adopting "a technicist view of the role of teachers and with efforts to erode teachers' autonomy and collegial authority" (p. 1545). If this is the world that new teachers enter, then those preparing them-teacher educators-must also fully understand this context and, beyond that, the ways that accountability regimes are transforming teacher preparation. But are novice teacher educators prepared to handle, critique, resist, and coopt this reigning discourse that threatens education for social justice? If so, how do they make sense of the competing demands of teacher education today? Such is the inquiry undertaken here.

Theoretical Framework

Ecological systems models, originally developed by Bronfenbrenner (1994) as a way to explain how a child develops, provide a theoretical grounding for this study. Bronfenbrenner argued that various environments, or systems, influence people's lives in different ways and at different times. Bronfenbrenner named these environments the microsystem (immediate social group), the mesosystem (relationships with peers, family, and others in close relationships), the exosystem (external networks like schools, churches, neighborhoods, and the media), the macrosystem (laws, cultural norms, etc.), and the chronosystem (time and space over one's life course). Zeichner and Conklin (2008) adapted Bronfrenbrenner's ecological model specifically for teacher development. Zeichner (2011) called the way that people learn to teach a complex ecology. For example, in Figure 1, we see the factors that Zeichner and Conklin believed influence the teacher candidate, moving outward from curriculum and teacher educators to program influences, the institutional context, and the policy context. One important way they have adapted existing ecological models is by illustrating that the teacher candidate brings preexisting attributes to the social contexts in which he or she is embedded.

I would argue that this ecological model can also be extended from teacher development to teacher educator development (see Figure 2). Like teacher candidates, doctoral students who are preparing to be teacher educators bring their own identities and attributes to their programs, where they are in turn influenced by the curriculum, their own professors, doctoral program contexts, institutions, and the policy contexts of the field in which they are prepared.


This study utilized a qualitative case study design to analyze the experiences of novice teacher educators from two universities in the southeastern United States. Case study methodology was employed because I wanted to better understand how my participants made sense of their contexts and experiences (Denizen & Lincoln, 2011; Merriam, 2014). Furthermore, I wanted my data collection and analysis to "retain the holistic and meaningful characteristics of real-life events" (Yin, 1989, p. 4). In what follows, I describe the context and participants of this study as well as methods of data collection and analysis. Finally, I summarize my researcher's perspective in relation to this area of inquiry.

Context and Participants

In a major metropolitan area in the southeastern United States, approximately 5 miles away from each other, there are two universities home to doctoral programs in education. Carter University, located in a wealthy suburb of the central city, is a private university with a small doctoral education program, admitting between three and six doctoral students each year to work with approximately five to seven faculty. Because of the program's size and its emphasis on the social and cultural foundations of education, the faculty at Carter work across specialties and are not subdivided into units within the department. Montvale State University, conversely, is a public university in the center of the city with more students (about 25 per year) and faculty (approximately 25 in various content areas). Montvale faculty are subdivided within the department into content area and/or grade-level units. A final distinguishing feature between the two universities is that students at Carter are fully funded for up to 5 years of doctoral study, whereas Montvale State students pay their own tuition, unless they receive one of a handful of doctoral fellowships or research assistantships. Despite their differences, the programs had one vital thing in common for the purposes of this study: Both programs had a mission statement related to educational equity and social justice, and several professors in each program were well known for conducting research that reflected personal and professional commitments to diversity.

Participants in this study were currently enrolled in or had recently graduated from one of these two doctoral programs. Furthermore, the call for participants, distributed via social media and e-mail, specifically asked for those committed in some way (through their research, teaching, and/or service) to social justice and educational equity. The final sample comprised nine participants, a robust size for a case study, which enabled me to include a variety of participants and also gather thick, rich descriptions of their experiences. Table 1 includes participants' pseudonyms, whether they are a doctoral student or a first-year professor, their university, and their major areas of interest. Though all participants are female, the sample is diverse in other ways, including by race, ethnicity, educational history and path to teacher education, sexuality, family composition, socioeconomic status, and age.

Data Collection and Analysis

Data were collected in the 2013-2014 school year, through interviews and document analysis. I utilized a semistructured interview protocol to guide discussion with each participant. This interview protocol allowed for clarifying and probing questions when needed (Rubin & Rubin, 2011). Interviews lasted approximately 90-120 minutes and were later transcribed for analysis. Simultaneously, I collected documents from participants (CVs, syllabi, publications, philosophy statements), programs (mission statements and program standards), and national organizations (such as the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education and the National Council on Teacher Quality, among others).

I analyzed my data through multiple levels of open coding (moving from 15 codes to 10 codes to the final themes presented here), member checks, peer review, and analysis of my own memos in an attempt to understand my place in the research (Merriam, 2014).

Researcher's Perspective

When I conducted this study, I was a third-year professor and, thus, relatively new to the field. I was also trying to understand my role as a teacher educator for social justice, and in part, my inquiry was motivated by the fact that there was very little literature that helped me understand what it meant to embody an ethos of social justice and activism as a new scholar in teacher education. Furthermore, as a doctoral advisor, I am also committed to supporting the next generation of teacher educators, and I found myself searching in vain for scholarship on how to best prepare and support teacher educators for social justice. Prior to beginning my research, I had professional connections to both the Carter and Montvale programs, though none of the participants were current or former students. Despite my existing knowledge of both programs, I remained open to participants' interpretations of their experiences, recognizing that my existing views could and should be informed by participants' multiple and diverse perspectives.


Upon inquiring into participants' understandings of what it means to be a teacher educator for social justice and how this is related to the current landscape of teacher education, there emerged three major themes: (a) There is a disjuncture between the rhetoric and reality of social justice teacher educator preparation, (b) preparing to be a teacher educator for social justice is complicated by the neoliberalization of teacher preparation, and (c) social justice commitments are both challenging and powerful to uphold in this climate. First, participants discussed the rhetoric versus reality of social justice teacher education, a complicated nexus of messages they were receiving that made it difficult to understand what being teacher educators for social justice actually meant in practice. This was primarily because, as participants described, there was often a difference or gap between programs' stated missions and the actual experiences they had as doctoral students and/or first-year professors. The second theme is the challenging context of teacher education, which many participants said was antithetical to their personal ethos of social justice and was also something that lowered their morale or concerned them for the future. Finally, participants revealed that their social justice commitments were difficult to uphold in a climate of attacks on teacher education; yet such commitments also provided reassurance and a powerful reminder of why they were in the profession. In the following sections, I elaborate on these central themes, and for the purposes of this manuscript, I primarily highlight interview data, using documents as supporting evidence for the interviewees' commentary.

Rhetoric Versus Reality of Social Justice Teacher Education Programs

The departmental mission statements, strategic plans, and other materials for both Carter and Montvale made specific reference to issues of justice, diversity, and equity. Carter, for example, emphasized its goal to "reform and improve education, particularly urban education, by conducting outstanding research, providing engaged and challenging teaching, and being actively involved in schools and other educational institutions in the community." Carter also sought to embody its

   educational philosophy and professional commitment to educate a
   small cadre of reflective teachers and educational researchers who
   are competent and committed to work with diverse student
   populations and are able to envision schools as they might become
   rather than preserve schools as they presently exist.

The faculty also wrote that they, as a department with such commitments, "must first and foremost recognize [the department's] members as participants in a democracy. This requires vigilance to serve the greater good and to advocate equal opportunity for all." Similarly, the education program at Montvale's mission was to "engage in research, teaching, and service in urban environments with people from multiple cultural, ethnic, and linguistic backgrounds." They stated an ongoing commitment "to innovation and creativity and to pushing the boundaries of knowledge and practice." The faculty wrote that they strived to "realize our vision of pluralism, equity, and social justice where individuals have equal access to meaningful learning opportunities throughout their lives and the chance to apply their knowledge and skills for the greater good." Striking here is that, though the programs were in different institutional contexts and served different populations, their missions were remarkably similar.

Though, in many ways, participants' perceptions of the impact of these statements and philosophies is more important than the intent of such statements, a few examples of how Carter and Montvale attempted to prepare new teacher educators for social justice-despite neoliberalism-are also instructive. Carter, for example, actively recruited underrepresented scholars, especially women and people of color, into a small cohort program of no more than six students per year. This small cohort model required that all students take a series of four foundations courses: Philosophy and Psychology of Education, History of Education, Sociocultural Contexts of Education, and Comparative Education. Each of these courses was taught by tenured faculty who were leaders in their field and who approached the content from a perspective of equity and social justice. In each course, participants were asked to, as the mission statement called for, "envision schools as they might become rather than preserve schools as they presently exist." Doctoral students also developed and/or participated with faculty in a number of community engagements, including professional development workshops for local teachers of Black youth and after-school tutoring at a local refugee development center. Similarly, at Montvale, new teacher educators had an opportunity to work with faculty from a variety of fields, many of whom espoused democratic values in their research and teaching. Because the undergraduate population of Montvale predominantly comprised students of color and first-generation college students, Montvale doctoral students were exposed to a diverse population in their teaching assistantships as they learned to become teacher educators. The college was also home to several centers focused on various aspects of urban education, where doctoral students could engage in community and professional development with faculty and peers.

When participants were asked to describe their program contexts, some specifically mentioned mission statements and related documents. They remembered: "Language of equity," "Mission of social justice," "Commitment to marginalized communities," and "Commitment to students of color." Many of them saw these missions actualized. They talked, in particular, about relationships with their advisors, cohorts, or collaborative groups they had worked to develop. For example, Jamie talked about how she was "really lucky" to have an advisor who understood what it meant to support doctoral students who were also mothers. Suzanne remembered, "I struggled for a while, and [my advisor] was there for me the whole way." In particular, Suzanne's advisor supported her in pursuing a social justice research agenda. Amy similarly commented, "I could not have done any of this without [my advisor]. I knew nothing about what it meant to do research or really be an academic until she showed me." When asked to elaborate, Amy clarified that she specifically remembered her advisor demonstrating how to do critical research and how to be an academic who "pushes the boundaries" of traditional paradigms and methodologies, something Amy believed was critical to social justice work in the academy.

Others, like Angela, a Black woman in her fourth year at Montvale, talked about finding a mentor whose identity and professional path were more aligned with her goals. Angela's advisor was a White woman who, in Angela's words, was "very research heavy." Angela sought out a Black female mentor who was committed to teaching, because Angela thought of herself more as a teacher than as a researcher. She also worked with this mentor to better understand the challenges for women of color in the academy, a personal insight that her White advisor could not provide in the same way.

Despite individual positive experiences, participants also reflected on the critical disjunctures between the rhetoric of social justice and the reality of what their programs and academia writ large looked like from their perspective. One participant remarked, upon considering these differences, "Are we really about social justice or do we just say we're about social justice?" The participants, when describing the reality of their departments and programs, identified the following factors that seemed at odds with a commitment to social justice: (a) tension between tenured and untenured (or non-tenure-track) faculty; (b) tenure processes; (c) different "value" placed on certain research paradigms; (d) attitudes toward women and mothers; (e) attitudes and microaggressions toward people of color; (f) marginalization of or penalties for social justice scholars; (g) pressure to join the academy versus returning to teaching in the PK-12 system; and (h) "hazing" into the academy, or conditions enforced by professors that seemed more like bullying than like high standards. Considering the ecological model discussed earlier, these factors demonstrate the influence of social relationships, professors, program context, and institutional context. They also show the potential disconnect when there is a mismatch between the new social contexts and an individual's personal attributes, despite his or her search for a social context that might be a good match.

The realities that they noted were, one could argue, reflective of national trends in higher education. That is, for example, a tension between tenured and untenured faculty might appear in many departments and colleges around the country, especially with the increasing reliance on adjunct and fixed-term faculty. Yet I would argue that so many participants in this study noted it because it seemed contrary to the stated commitment to social justice. There is also an abundance of literature on the way racism is perpetuated in the academy (e.g., Harper, 2012). At the time of the study, while I was interviewing participants, for example, there was a national news story about a professor in Minnesota who taught about structural racism in the media and society, and her university formally disciplined her after three White male students complained that she was being racist toward them (McDonough, 2013). Despite knowing this theoretically, Mary, a Black woman, noted that, at Carter,

   I just kind of thought it would be different because this is a
   place where people talk openly about racism in K-12 schools and in
   society as a whole. So you'd think people would call each other out
   and work together to make things better in our own community.

During our interview, Mary and I spent a lot of time talking about her experiences with social injustice in the academy. She chose to study at Carter because her mother had been a doctoral student there many years prior, but she commented that her mother's experience seemed much more "like an automatic fit" than hers was. After discussing the mission of Carter's program, I asked her if she saw this mission reflected in academia:

ALYSSA: Do you feel like academia is a socially just space?

MARY: No. [answers immediately and forcefully, then looks down and sighs. Silence for several beats.]

A: Why?

M, looks up quietly, with tears in her eyes: Academia is really very White and very male. It's not people trying to be a problem when they say that; it really is the case and every aspect of it is that way. It is a constant pushback of ideas, and I have to put on armor to be OK because it is not a space that was created for me.... I feel like I'm not understood.

A: Even in your program that's focused on social justice.

M: Yes! Even then. I think people choose programs for different reasons. I don't think [some students and professors] chose [Carter] for social justice.

Mary mentioned several examples of this "pushback," one in which a professor questioned the "validity" of her research focus and attempted to sway her trajectory in a way that felt "like a microaggression." She also spoke of peers whose ideas of social justice were more reflective of a color-blind ideology, who challenged her when she "wanted to talk about race so much," and who lacked the critical perspectives that she anticipated her classmates would have if they had selected a social justice program.

Several participants also talked about the "danger" of being seen as a scholaractivist, especially at a public university or in a conservative region of the country. Gertrude said she had "seen what happens to other people who are 'out' with their political work" and then commented,

   I don't know if I would say that [I'm fully a social justice
   scholar]. I feel like it's dangerous to say something blatantly
   like that. People may think you are a Communist or something crazy.
   It's dangerous to be a scholar-activist these days!

She cited several examples of scholar-activists facing challenges within their universities (being alienated from the faculty or being positioned as "troublemakers") or from the general public (being targeted by local or state politicians for their politics or maligned in the media for such politics).

When I asked Jaime how she felt about being a social justice teacher educator, she described how her mentors had talked with her about ways she would need to "play the game" and "negotiate" this stance. She spoke at length about this messaging:

   It's playing the game of academia ... learning how to navigate and
   negotiate the politics.... And especially in that I know I want to
   work in equity and social justice [which] gets devalued a lot. I
   don't do quantitative educational psychology so my work takes a lot
   longer to collect data, publish, [and] it doesn't have the funding.
   I'm in a space that is not always valued by the academy, so I need
   to know how to negotiate spaces to make sure that I continue to be
   able to do that work.... So much is like a political game, so you
   have to learn how to play, if you want to be safe to do what you
   want to do.

Finally, a last difference between rhetoric and reality was the pressure to go into higher education versus returning to the K-12 classroom or doing work at the state or district level. Both Carter's and Montvale's mission statements and program descriptions specifically mentioned that PhDs from their universities could lead to school, district, and state-level administration and leadership. Yet the "unstated" push was for doctoral students to go into the academy or, more specifically, into tenure-track positions at research universities. For example, Gertrude reflected that she envisioned herself exercising her social justice commitments as a classroom teacher but said she received both "implicit and explicit" questioning from professors about her choice:

   I feel that if you don't go into academia right after [you get]
   your degree ... that people will look down on you, and it makes it
   harder to go that route after making your decision.... It's not a
   good feeling.... It kind of makes me feel like a failure, as if I
   have come this far and failed.

What is important to note about all of the experiences outlined here is that participants' feelings were often the result of things left unspoken, of conversations veiled in secrecy, and of mixed messages from faculty and official statements. I argue that the contradiction between rhetoric and reality-and the way participants were left, in many cases, on their own to make sense of how to be a social justice teacher educator-results from a lack of clear understanding of how best to prepare teacher educators. As previous research has demonstrated, there is little in the way of a pedagogy of teacher education, and here it is revealed that there is even less in the way of a pedagogy of social justice teacher education. Unsurprisingly, participants noted that some of the disparities between their expectations and the reality were influenced by the changing landscape of teacher preparation-a second theme that emerged in the data collection. They felt their professors and colleagues were under more pressure, and this trickled down to them.

Challenging Context of Teacher Education

A second emergent theme regards the context of teacher education, which participants said presented many challenges to their preparation and practice, and especially to their commitment to social justice. This was particularly prominent for first-year professors, who were in the midst of assuming new duties and tasks related to accountability, program reporting, and assessment. They were also more aware (but only slightly) of groups like NCTQ that received frequent press about their critiques of teacher education programs. Doctoral students did, however, understand that there were clear challenges to traditional university-based teacher education, many referencing Teach for America. As Kathleen explained in her interview, "teacher ed is clearly under attack. There's no end to the groups that think we're not doing things right or that they could do better."

Participants identified several contextual factors or policies that challenged their commitment to social justice. Interestingly, all the factors they identified are usually spoken of in acronyms, resulting in transcriptions that were a veritable alphabet soup of organizations and policies: edTPA, TFA, NCLB/RTTT, VAMs, DOE, NCTQ, InTASC, PSC, and NCATE/CAEP. Table 2 summarizes each of these factors, including its full name, a brief description of its purpose or mission from an organizational Web site, and one participant's description of the factor. Though not all participants mentioned all factors, I only included factors in Table 2 if they were mentioned by at least four of the nine participants.

To be clear, participants drew distinctions between some of these factors. Some, like the DOE, PSC, and NCATE/CAEP, they saw as a "necessarily evil," as organizations that were necessary for their university and department to function but that, in practice, enforced policies in ways that made it difficult for teacher educators to practice social justice. For example, Zari understood that writing reports for accreditation by these three organizations was important for maintaining program viability, but she also felt her and her colleagues' time was better spent working directly with preservice teachers. Other factors, like edTPA, NCTQ, and VAMs, were viewed as more detrimental and immediately harmful to teacher education and teacher educators. These were the more obviously neoliberal reforms.

In her interview, Jaime commented specifically on the connection between neoliberal policies and reforms at the K-12 level and in higher education, what she called "bullshit" or "crap." Jamie saw these neoliberal reforms as detrimental to her role as a teacher educator and to teacher education in general because they were based on "faulty ideology that competition increases quality," echoing researchers who find that neoliberal reforms value "profit over people" (Chomsky, 1999). In this analysis, Jamie raises a critical point that nearly all of the participants discussed: the fact that they left teaching for specific reasons, many of which were tied to the increasing standardization and socially unjust policies, only to find those same initiatives infiltrating their way into colleges of education. Jamie explained, "The same thing happening to teachers at the K-12 level is now at the higher [education] level and I'm hoping tenure still exists when I am teaching. So I think a lot of things in a K-12 arena that push me to do this kind of work are happening here now, more and more." When asked if she knew how to deal with this as a teacher educator, she replied emphatically, "No, not in the least."

Several participants referenced how these factors and reforms impacted the morale of their professors, mentors, and themselves. For example, Mary commented,

   I've seen the reaction to policy [and how it] affects their
   morale.... Some of my professors have checked out, meaning they are
   in it now for themselves because there is not as much of a hope for
   their work to be changing things.... My own morale is low. I don't
   know what teacher education is going to look like in the future, if
   teacher educator programs are run [like] the polar opposite of
   social justice.... So my morale is affected by these role models
   that I have. They do not seem very hopeful about the future of
   teacher education in the university setting or otherwise.

Amy, a first-year professor at a teaching college in the Midwest and an alumnus from Montvale, concurred with the relationship between these reforms and the morale of her former department at Montvale. She stated,

   A lot of my professors were working hard to keep positive outlooks
   and to put on a face of not being burned out ... distancing
   themselves because a situation is too painful.... You could tell
   that they were trying really hard not to show they were feeling
   certain things.

As a novice teacher educator herself, Amy said she did not feel prepared to deal with such accountability measures because "it wasn't even really talked about formally. It was just assumed we'd figured it out I think."

Finally, Zari's story offers unique insight into the two programs and into the transition from doctoral student to first-year professor. Zari attended Carter and then, upon graduation, became an assistant professor at Montvale State. When asked if and how she sees herself as a teacher educator for social justice, she explained, referencing Delpit (1995), "Social justice is part of everything that I am, and everything that I do. I see myself as a gateway. If I wouldn't want my students teaching my future children, then they shouldn't be teaching other people's children."

This commitment is evident in all of Zari's documents as well: in her teaching evaluations, in her philosophy of teaching, and in her research. Upon coming to Montvale State, however, Zari found that one of the biggest challenges was dealing with components of teacher education that impacted her ability to truly function as an advocate for social justice. For example, she referenced the challenge of serving as a "gatekeeper" in a school that has a policy in which all students who apply to the undergraduate teacher education program are accepted, so that course numbers are not low enough to justify budget cuts. "I can only do so much with a policy like that," she said, "And it makes me wonder sometimes, why am I actually here? If my professional experience and opinion really doesn't make a difference with policies like that standing in the way? It doesn't mean I'm going to stop, but it does make me wonder."

Overall, participants expressed varying degrees of awareness of the current landscape of teacher preparation. Unsurprisingly, first-year professors knew slightly more logistical information than doctoral students who were early in their programs, and Montvale students and alumni knew more than Carter students and alumni because of the increased requirements for public universities. However, no participant from either university was able to clearly articulate concrete ways that he or she or his or her mentor resisted the neoliberalization of teacher preparation. Some did not question the need to report on their departments' successes for improving programs, but they did see "trouble ahead," as one participant commented, because of NCTQ's critiques of teacher education at the same time that TFA was proliferating. Participants also remarked that some of their fears and concerns were born out of a lack of knowledge and a general sense of despair that "runs through the department when these things are discussed." Thus they may have assumed that the status of the department (or profession) was in more jeopardy than it truly was, because of the shrouded ways that discussed are often had in academia. This is not meant to argue that doctoral students should be involved in serving on accreditation committees or writing accountability reports but rather that the conversations between faculty about the requirements of working in a teacher preparation program in today's climate need not always not remain behind such closed doors. There must be a balance between "protecting" doctoral students from the politics of higher education and giving them the knowledge they need to adequately understand-and then critique-the structures in which they are and will be embedded.

The Power of Social Justice

There are certainly many challenges to social justice teacher education and to preparing the next generation of scholar-activists in a neoliberal environment. As Claire remarked about her social justice mind-set, "you can never turn it off," and you are "almost constantly viewing things in a critical way," which makes it difficult to see beyond the challenges and injustices within each level of one's ecological system. They acknowledged that possessing a social justice orientation might "make it harder" because they felt constantly barraged by neoliberal reforms and policies that contradicted their goals.

Yet all of the participants also emphasized that a social justice stance is what, in part, kept them going despite the challenges. Kathleen described her commitment to teacher education for social justice as a "double-edged sword" for just this reason. Their ideologies made it possible to remain hopeful and to trust in the inherent possibilities and promise of social justice education. For example, two first-year professor participants reflected as follows:

Reminding myself why I wanted to do this in the first place helps me keep going at the times when I feel very frustrated and kind of questioning why I am doing this or why I am putting myself through this stress of what it takes to be a professor.

It's because I want the teachers who are coming through this program to have me as a professor so they get these social justice things from me that they will not get from other professors. (Amy)

If I can make one person take on [teaching for social justice] as a life commitment ... then I feel worth it. The reason you step out of your class of 25 [K-12] students each day and you become a teacher educator is for that exponential factor. You touch one person that will touch many lives. (Suzanne)

Overall, then, their social justice mind-sets offered, as one participant explained it, "a sort of buffer" against what often felt like an onslaught of policies and reforms that did not align with their beliefs. Social justice is what brought them to the profession and what kept them in the profession.


Findings from this study extend and enhance existing knowledge on novice teacher educators, including on their preparation and their experiences. Just as previous literature (Goodwin et al., 2014) found that teacher educators were prepared by "happenstance," the participants in this study reflected similar feelings about how they were inducted into the profession. In particular, given the focus of their programs on social justice, they had many questions and concerns about if and how their preparation was aligned with the stated missions and the incidents they witnessed in their departments. They felt further challenged by the landscape of teacher education that reflected a turn toward neoliberal, accountability-focused measures. Previous literature has highlighted the need for an explicit pedagogy of teacher education, and this study supports such a pedagogy. It also highlights the need for teacher educator preparation to include explicit instruction in and dialogue around the politics of teacher preparation itself. Just as Hollins et al. (2014), Goodwin et al. (2014), and others (e.g., Forzani, 2014) uncovered, there were many assumptions made about what novice teacher educators could know and do in their new profession. Neglecting to address the politics of teacher education and how to remain committed to social justice amid a challenging climate contributed to participants' confusion, unease, and apprehension for their future careers.

Participants in the study revealed the impact of various contexts on their development and experiences, supporting a notion of teacher educator development as an ecological model (Zeichner & Conklin, 2008). While an ecological model would likely be applicable to the development of any new teacher educator, I find it particularly salient for those embodying social justice stances because their personal stances may often be in conflict with the contexts in which they are embedded. Some participants' experiences, like Mary's, appeared to be most influenced by the interaction between her personal attributes and those of her professors and peers. Others, like Jamie, experienced a deep personal connection to her mentor, which appeared to mediate some of the challenges she experienced when she realized that her personal commitments conflicted with the institutional and policy contexts of teacher education.

The policy context of the ecological model of teacher educator development proved to be particularly salient for new teacher educators with a commitment to social justice. Like in Zeichner and Conklin's (2008) model, this policy context, rife with accountability measures and threats to traditional teacher preparation, has a reverberating impact on novice teacher educators' experiences. Though this policy context may appear distant from the individual teacher educator, it still impacts one's daily practice and one's possibilities for (and concerns about) the future. One way to visualize individual elements of the policy context that are particularly salient for new teacher educators is to view the "Hydra of Teacher Education."

Just as the Hydra identified by NYCoRE represents the ways that neoliberal reforms, policies, and organizations threaten social justice pedagogy and curriculum in public education, so, too, does the Hydra of Teacher Education lurk menacingly over the possibilities for preparing teacher educators for social justice. As depicted in Figure 3, we can imagine each head in this Hydra as one of the reforms that participants identified as impacting their practice. As teacher educators make efforts to respond to one contextual factor, such as TFA or NCTQ or VAMs, each of the other heads only gets stronger. Driving the Hydra are the core values of neoliberalism: competition (as seen, for example, in the competition of TFA with traditional teacher preparation), capitalism (demonstrated in the role of for-profit companies in the edTPA, for instance), and commodification (as seen in the reduction of programs and individuals to test scores on value-added measures).

The findings from this study point to the existence and potentially destructive effects of a Hydra of Teacher Education. If we are to adequately prepare teacher educators for social justice who are coming of age in the era of accountability for teacher education, the solution, then, cannot be to respond to each individual head but, as Picower and Mayorga (2015) contend, by addressing, critiquing, and developing a compelling argument against the core values of neoliberalism and commodification in higher education that drive the Hydra of Teacher Education.


This research on new teacher educators for social justice has implications for teacher educator preparation, future research, and future policy in teacher education. First, this research points to the critical importance of remaining committed to university and departmental missions about social justice. For students who want to be activist-scholars, they need to see their professors also engaged in such commitments. Professors need to be transparent about the ways that current contexts might challenge or buoy our commitment to social justice-how do we negotiate academia? What institutional supports can we work with doctoral students to improve their experiences and our own? How can we be honest with ourselves about the ways that we may replicate social injustice in our own programmatic structures, curriculum, or relationships? And then how can we work together to create more equitable spaces for ourselves and our students? For example, institutions may institute a formal mentoring program-with funded support from administration in order not to further overburden faculty-in which senior faculty, junior faculty, and doctoral students form triads or other professional learning communities to discuss the ways they fight for equity in their research, teaching, and service and how they can support each other in these "dangerous times."

Like previous research on the preparation of teacher educators, this research highlights the need for additional scholarship in this field. This is a field ripe for new scholarly possibilities, especially given the increased focus on teacher preparation regulations by the federal government. Future research may, like Goodwin et al. (2014), use mixed methodology to expand this study's focus on teacher educators for social justice-to those in different institutional and state contexts, to larger samples of scholars across the country, to veteran teacher educators who are reflecting upon their own preparation, or to examining innovative programs that focus on developing and implementing a pedagogy of social justice teacher education. Researchers may also take a longitudinal approach and follow new teacher educators into their careers, noting if and how explicit preparation in teacher education impacts their research, teaching, and career trajectory as scholar-activists.

This study also holds implications for teacher education policy and reform. While many of the reforms in teacher education are relatively new, forthcoming scholarship is likely to find that such reforms jeopardize how teachers are prepared to enact social justice, culturally relevant pedagogy, and other critical teaching methods in their classroom. For example, Dunn (in press) found that teacher candidates said the edTPA took time away from what was most important in their programs and limited their abilities to enact social justice pedagogy in the classroom. In other research, faculty revealed that they gave up time teaching about social justice in order to prepare students for the edTPA and that they felt overburdened by the requirements (Picower & Marshall, in press). If we know such policies and reforms are lowering morale and contributing to teacher educators' stress, such policies may contribute to additional challenges in the profession. The findings presented here advance the position that such reforms jeopardize teacher educators' development and suggest that such reforms and initiatives should be reconsidered. Reconsidering these reforms will not just positively impact preservice teachers' experiences, but may also enhance teacher educators' experiences, as well. That is, if new teacher educators have to spend less of their time concerned with standards compliance or responding to attacks on the profession, they can better devote their time and energy to (a) improving teacher education programs for preservice teachers and (b) contributing to the development of more equitable reforms and improvements in the profession.

Overall, this research and implications from it highlight the importance of better understanding how teacher educators are prepared, how to support their social justice commitments, and how to help them make sense of the changing landscape of teacher education. In a world where PK-12 education and teachers seem constantly under attack, teacher educators need to be strong allies in the fight for justice in classrooms around the country, and we can only do this when we ourselves feel prepared, supported, and nurtured in our own profession.


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Caption: Figure 1 An Ecological Model of Teacher Development

Caption: Figure 2 An Ecological Model of Teacher Educator Development

Caption: Figure 3 The Policy Context of an Ecological Model of Teacher Educator Development: The Hydra of Teacher Education

Table 1

Pseudonym   DS or FYP      University      Area(s) of interest

Angela      DS, 4th year   Montvale        Literacy and culturally
                                           relevant pedagogy

Jamie       DS, 2nd year   Montvale        Math education and English
                                           language learners

Kathleen    DS, 3rd year   Montvale        Preservice teacher

Gertrude    DS, 4th year   Montvale        Social studies and service

Amy         FYP            Montvale alum   Literacy and (dis)ability

Mary        DS, 3rd year   Carter          Multicultural education

Claire      FYP            Carter alum     Comparative education

Suzanne     FYP            Carter alum     Civic education and
Zari        FYP            Carter alum/    English language learners

                           Montvale FYP    Literacy teaching and

Note. DS = doctoral student. FYP= first-year professor.

Table 2
Participant-Identified Factors That Challenge Social Justice in
Teacher Education

Acronym   Full name               Organization/

edTPA     Education Teacher       "A multiple-measure
          Performance             assessment of teaching--
          Assessment              built and submitted by the
                                  candidate--that addresses
                                  planning, instruction,
                                  assessment and analyzing

TFA       Teach For America       "Teach For America's mission
                                  is to build the movement to
                                  eliminate educational inequality
                                  by developing such leaders.
                                  We recruit committed recent
                                  college graduates and
                                  and professionals of all
                                  backgrounds to teach for
                                  two years in urban and
                                  rural public schools"

RTTT      Race to the Top         "A competitive grant program
                                  designed to encourage and
                                  reward States that are creating
                                  the conditions for education
                                  innovation and reform;
                                  achieving significant
                                  improvement in student
                                  outcomes, including making
                                  substantial gains in student
                                  achievement, closing
                                  achievement gaps,
                                  improving high school
                                  graduation rates, and
                                  ensuring student
                                  preparation for success
                                  in college and careers;
                                  and implementing
                                  ambitious plans in four
                                  core education reform areas"
                                  (http ://

VAM       Value-Added             Measures that "estimate or
          Measures                quantify how much of a
          (or Models)             positive (or negative) effect
                                  individual teachers have on
                                  student learning during the
                                  course of a given school year"

DOE       Department of           The state authority responsible
(State)   Education (State)       for managing curriculum,
                                  assessment, budgets, and
                                  certification for schools,
                                  teachers, and students in that
                                  particular state.

NCTQ      National Council        "Advocates for reforms in a
          for Teacher Quality     broad range of teacher policies
                                  at the federal, state and local
                                  levels in order to increase the
                                  number of effective teachers.
                                  In particular, we recognize the
                                  absence of much of the evidence
                                  necessary to make a compelling
                                  case for change and seek to fill
                                  that void with a research agenda
                                  that has direct and practical
                                  implications for policy. We are
                                  committed to lending
                                  transparency and increasing
                                  public awareness about the
                                  four sets of institutions that
                                  have the greatest impact on
                                  teacher quality: states, teacher
                                  preparation programs, school
                                  districts and teachers unions."

InTASC    Interstate Teacher      "A consortium of state education
          Assessment and          agencies and national educational
          Support Consortium      organizations dedicated to the
                                  reform of the preparation,
                                  licensing, and on/going
                                  professional development of
                                  teachers. Created in 1987, InTASC's
                                  primary constituency is state
                                  education agencies responsible for
                                  teacher licensing, program
                                  approval, and professional
                                  development Its work is guided by
                                  one basic premise: An effective
                                  teacher must be able to integrate
                                  content knowledge with the specific
                                  strengths and needs of students to
                                  assure that all students learn and
                                  perform at high levels"

PSC       Professional            "Responsibility for providing
          Standards               a regulatory system for
          Commission              certifying and classifying'
                                  professional employees in
                                  public schools.... Educator
                                  preparation regulations and
                                  standards are established to
                                  assure the citizens of [state]
                                  that public school educators
                                  meet high standards and are
                                  well prepared to teach in the
                                  classrooms of this state"

NCATE/    National Council        "CAEP advances excellence
CAEP      for the Accreditation   in educator preparation
          of Teacher Education/   through evidence-based
          Council for the         accreditation that assures
          Accreditation of        quality and supports
          Educator Preparation    continuous improvement
                                  to strengthen P-12 student
                                  learning. Accreditation is a
                                  nongovernmental activity
                                  based on peer review that
                                  serves the dual functions of
                                  assuring quality and
                                  promoting improvement"

Acronym   Sample

edTPA     "The edTPA is a miserable
          assessment. There are so
          many things wrong with it,
          and when I see our
          department using it, it
          infuriates me because it
          seems to go against
          everything we say we believe."

TFA       "[TFA] makes us look like
          we're not needed and
          perpetuates the false
          reality that all you need to
          be is smart to be a good

RTTT      "The ideology of NCLB
          is now part of Race to the Top,
          which is now coming
          to higher education.
          This competition and quest
          for money and testing--
          it's part of the language
          of teacher prep now."

VAM       "Tying students' scores on
          standardized tests to teacher
          education programs? That
          doesn't make any sense. There
          is no evidence that will work
          and I feel like a whole lot of
          evidence that it won't."

DOE       "We're expected to do more with
(State)   less. The budgets for higher
          education and for K-12 education
          are decreasing by the day because
          the [state] DOE doesn't really car
          about high-quality teaching and

NCTQ      "It's not a surprise that NCTQ
          exists, but it is a little bit of a
          surprise that people are taking
          it seriously. I mean, it's getting
          news coverage and I can tell
          that there is a debate about
          whether or not to respond.
          But it shows an inherent
          misunderstanding of what
          teacher education is and
          should be."

InTASC    "So many standards,
          so little time!"

PSC       "To be honest, I don't know
          exactly what they do, but
          I know the faculty has to do
          a lot of reporting for them."

NCATE/    "How much time is wasted
CAEP      on writing reports that may not
          even be read? How much
          time is wasted on site visits
          and meeting to talk about
          standards? Imagine what
          else we could be doing with
          that time that would actually
          benefit our students."


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Article Details
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Author:Dunn, Alyssa Hadley
Publication:Teacher Education Quarterly
Article Type:Case study
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2016
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Next Article:Information on the California council on teacher education.

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