Putting Equity to Work: A Qualitative Case Study Exploring Teacher Candidates Perceptions on Equity and Social Justice Pedagogy in a Teacher Preparation Program
For decades, White supremacy and Whitewashed teacher preparation curriculum have been used to prepare a majority White female teacher workforce. This same workforce has had limited exposure to diversity and a lack of cultural competence and critical consciousness yet is expected to teach diverse student populations. Furthermore, this curriculum is being taught by a majority of White teacher-educators, who also have limited exposure to diversity and a lack of cultural competence and critical consciousness. Additionally, teacher education programs have been under scrutiny for being ineffective when preparing teachers for the classroom because much of what a teacher candidate learns before entering the classroom is not enacted when faced with the pressures of teaching in a new environment. To combat the lack of critical consciousness, cultural competence, and effective teaching, teacher education programs have implemented equity and social justice concepts in the curriculum. Yet, teacher preparation programs have experienced tension with focusing on equity and social justice or focusing on pedagogical practices. This study seeks to explore equity and social justice in a teacher preparation program through the lived experiences of teacher candidates who are attempting to enact equity and social justice pedagogy in their teaching. Based on this study, it suggests that for a university-based teacher education program to support teacher-candidates enactment, while addressing the tension between focusing on equity and social justice or pedagogy, they must: a) identify the teacher candidates perceptions of the curriculum that addresses equity and social justice, b) identify how teacher candidates are attempting to enact equity and social justice in the classroom, and c) identify what the teacher candidates gained from the curriculum that helped them incorporate equity and social justice in the classroom. To meet this task, this study employed a constructivist approach, investigating teacher candidates’ understanding and knowledge before their teacher preparation program in addition to experiences gained during their program. Through a qualitative research design, this study applied a case study approach to reveal the teacher candidates' experiences within a teacher preparation program (TPP), who are student teaching in diverse urban schools during their last year. Through semi-structured, open-ended virtual interviews, the lived experiences of teacher candidates were gathered and analyzed using Merriam and Tisdell’s (2015) method of analysis to describe the teachers’ practices and understandings as they attempt to teach diverse students inequitable ways. The teacher candidates' perceptions of equity and social justice within their TPP were revealed as they share insights on their experiences engaging with the TPP curriculum. The purpose of this study was to explore how equity is enacted within a teacher preparation program through the perspectives of the teacher candidates. Findings suggested three themes that aligned correspondingly with each research question. When incorporating social justice and equity, teacher preparation programs need to thread equity and social justice in the curriculum in a way that is fluid and integral, treating equity and social justice like oxygen. When addressing teacher candidates, they need multiple exposures to equity, and social justice over some time, including beyond their program to grow in their identity development to enact equity and social justice, treating teacher candidates like sponges. When reflecting on teacher preparation programs supporting teachers’ enactment of equity and social justice, bold and courageous decisions must be made to dismantle the racist systems in education to work toward programs immersed with an anti-racist and social justice approach to developing teachers for diverse students, treating teacher preparation programs with boldness.