Who fits in? An interactive investigation of preservice teachers' commitment to urban education

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching and Leadership


Celia Oyler


Curricula, Teaching, Teacher education, School administration, Urban schools

Subject Categories

Curriculum and Instruction


The chronic shortage of qualified teachers in urban schools is an serious national issue. The reasons for this shortage are numerous and complex, but one that is often noted is the reluctance of White, middle class teacher education graduates to work in urban settings. They tend to return to the rural, suburban, and small town communities from which they came and where they expect to teach students who are much like themselves. Little has been said about those preservice teachers who are committed to teach in poor, majority minority urban schools.

The purpose of this study was to gain understanding about the nature of four preservice teachers' commitment to that endeavor. The focus of this research was on the meanings they ascribed to commitment to city schools and the sources of and obstacles to that commitment. The data collection and analysis were interactive and dialogic. Each participant wrote stories, created concept maps and engaged in individual and group conversations over the course of a semester. They also read and commented upon transcripts of the exchanges in order to add to the data and its analysis.

The nature of these preservice teachers' commitment to urban education is characterized first by their need to find a place where they are accepted, or fit in. Second that commitment is characterized by their desire to be a change agent in urban settings. Three findings follow. First, the capacity to fit in is determined by one's prior experiences. Second, the capacity to fit in is threatened by the racial differences that exist between White preservice teachers and many of the students in urban settings. Third, the possibility of being a change agent in city schools is linked to preservice teachers knowledge and skill in implementing appropriate pedagogical practices in the context of schools.

These findings point to ways that teacher educators can assist other White, middle class preservice teachers overcome their reluctance to work in city schools, and see the possibility of their own fit and effectiveness in those settings.


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