Date of Award

Spring 2005

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Liza Finkel


The nature of my dissertation inquiry and my overall argument explore the role that white racial identity has in the teaching and pedagogy of new ESOL teachers. Throughout this dissertation I argue for better understandings of race to raise awareness of how knowledge systems are socially constructed to support a level of inequality that disadvantages ESOL students of color. As ESOL teachers begin their work, I question how their white racial identity and cultural positionality influence their perceptions of diverse groups of English language learners and how these perceptions influence their teaching.

I focus on the social construction of knowledge to examine how notions of race in society and institutions of schooling have contributed to categorizing ESOL students as "Other," which enables a shift from an individual acts of discrimination based on cultural difference to an institutional level analysis of relations of domination. This broader analysis facilitates an understanding of the underlying social structures that obscure racial inequality and white privilege. I look at how taken-for-granted knowledge systems are maintained in educational institutions to highlight the role that teachers unwittingly play in sustaining such structures. I also examine how ESOL policy and practice have been influenced by organizations and fields of research that shape how culture and teacher identity are addressed in ESOL education.

I use a qualitative research methodology to cross analyze teacher perspectives on racial identity. Through the transcripts of interviews and observations, I analyze teacher dialogue to understand the preconceptual elements involved in racialized discourse and the factors that predetermine it. A grounded theory method of data collection allows me to develop theory based on teacher transcript data and to put forth propositions for a conceptualization of ESOL teacher education that considers the influence of white racial identity on teaching.

The thematic categories that emerged examine: (1) notions of race and white racial identity, (2) white racial identity in the ESOL classroom, and (3) marginalization of ESOL in the school community. Describing and further explaining these themes contributes to my argument by illustrating the ways in which the participants conceptualized issues of race and white racial identity, and how these conceptions linked to classroom practice.

Lastly, I discuss the implications that arise in the relationships between the thematic categories that emerged in this study. By analyzing the interconnectedness of these themes, I describe the elements important for an ESOL teacher education knowledge base. In so doing, I suggest ways to better prepare ESOL preservice teachers to enter their diverse classrooms with a heightened sense of how racial inequality and white racial identity play out in teaching.