Date of Award

Spring 2010

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Kim Fries


This study asked how two white, in-service elementary school teachers within the context of their classrooms navigated the cultural gaps between themselves and students from whom they differed (e.g. racially, ethnically, socio-economically, and/or linguistically). Three sub-questions examined: 1) what life experiences shaped how the teachers understood difference and diversity within their classrooms; 2) what system(s) of beliefs the teachers learned and constructed through those experiences; and 3) what identities the teachers assumed and/or assigned to themselves and their students. The study employed a sociocultural theoretical framework. Ethnographic data collection strategies included participant observation, semi-structured interviews, and material collection. Discourse analysis acted as the analytic framework.

The findings indicate that the participants drew upon their life experiences and the values and beliefs they acquired and constructed through those experiences to make meaning of diversity in their classrooms and to shape the actions and interactions within their classrooms. Their life experiences seem to have influenced how the participants grappled with the Deficit Thinking and White Knight Discourse models in their explicit and implicit forms. Understanding the social context in which they taught, the participants structured their classrooms and their interactions to address their students' academic needs on the one hand and their social and emotional needs on the other. Additionally, the participants fostered identities of achievement in their students. To bridge the cultural gaps, the participants explored and developed a sense of their students' "experiential diversity," and they formed relationships with others who could support them in their work. The final finding focused on how interacting throughout the course of this study providing the participants with the opportunity to examine their own autobiographies and the impact of those autobiographies on their teaching. The implications of this study include: 1) the relevance of teachers' life experiences to their teaching practice, 2) the importance of understanding the social context in which one teaches, 3) different strategies teachers might employ in working with culturally diverse students, and 4) future research based on the process of this investigation as a means of encouraging teachers to critically examine their own autobiographies.