Student teachers’ perceptions of and response to issues of social justice

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In recent years, pupils’ diversity has continued to become a permanent feature in classrooms in countries across the world. The direct implication for this increasing diversity is that teachers are daily confronted with pupils having diverse and sometimes complex learning needs. Even though most teacher education training programs have an element or courses focused on social justice and teaching for a diverse school and classroom population as part of its components, not a lot is known about how these trainees’ teachers are able to respond to pupils’ needs when confronted with these diverse learning needs in schools and classrooms. In the research reported here, theories of agency (Archer, 2000; Eteläpelto et al., 2013) applied to teaching for social justice (Pantić, 2015) was used to explore student teachers’ perceptions of four domains of teacher agency including sense of purpose, competence, autonomy and reflexivity. Three programmes in the School of Education at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland were the research sites for this study. A mixed methods approach was used in data generation and triangulation. Four research instruments including a questionnaire survey (n=299), interviews (n=12), simulation scenario (n=9), and logs (n=6) were used. Findings revealed that trainee teachers’ sense of purpose mostly involved an understanding of agency for social justice as part of their roles. In terms of competence participants mostly perceived such agency as focused on classroom practices although there were concerns about how others in the context of their practice would respond to their actions, especially if they acted as agents of change for social justice. In responding to the stimulation scenarios, participants reflected on how they would use their professional autonomy in context-embedded decision-making and barriers to promoting social justice they perceived. In terms of participants’ reflexivity, they discussed the ways in which university courses and environment were effective in developing them as agents of social justice. We discuss the implications of these findings in terms of student teachers’ theoretical conceptualisation of social justice reflected in the nature of actions that they perceive as possible in the context of inequality and social injustices. Equally important is the methodological innovation that involved the use of simulation scenarios in the context of this study. In conclusion, we consider a need to take a broader view and understanding of social justice as a starting point in empowering trainee teachers to engage with the contexts of their practice both within and beyond classroom.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 28 Nov 2016
EventAustralian Association for Research in Education (AARE) Conference - Melbourne
Duration: 28 Nov 201630 Nov 2016


ConferenceAustralian Association for Research in Education (AARE) Conference


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