Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Barbara Thayer-Bacon

Committee Members

Judson Laughter, Susan Groenke, Patrick Biddix


Teaching for social justice is an attempt by classroom teachers to promote equity within their classrooms. Researchers have analyzed the impact of pre-service teachers’ readiness to address social justice issues in their classrooms upon exiting their teacher preparation programs. However, despite reports of already practicing K-12 teachers’ attempts to teach for social justice in their classrooms, there is little connection to teacher education programs and/or the impact of teacher practice in the classroom.

This ethnographic qualitative study addresses the research gap by highlighting the understandings and experiences of four intern teachers simultaneously enrolled in a teacher education program while participating in a critical social justice focus group. Additionally, this study explored one of the participant’s practices as she transitioned from her teacher education program into her own classroom. This study uses the conceptual framework “culturally relevant education” to serve as an analytic tool describing the participant’s practice in connection to the literature as a narrative case study.

Between 2011-2012 data was collected from the critical social justice focus group from six focus group meetings that were transcribed. Other research methods including observations, field notes, interviews, and archival data were collected September 2012- January 2014 from the one practicing teacher in the study. A thematic analysis was produced to analyze the focus group and observational data.

Findings from the critical social justice focus group revealed intern teachers’ understandings of social justice included: (1) embracing a critical awareness,(2)“it’s about the students,” and (3) structural obstacles. Findings from the narrative case study revealed the teacher implemented culturally relevant education through (1) a caring community, (2) holding high expectations, (3) cultural competence, and (4) sociopolitical awareness as a teacher. Implications for teacher education programs, teacher educators, and educational leaders conclude this study.

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