Date of Award

Spring 2010

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Barbara Houston


The purpose of this study was to consider the political dimensions of teachers' work through a conceptual comparison to the work of social activists. The author developed a four-part analysis of the work of activists through a reading of the social movement literature and compared that analysis to the work of teachers according to four contemporary approaches to teachers' work (neo-conservative, caring, contemporary liberal, and critical theory). The result was an integrated vision of teachers' work that brings together teachers' daily practices and their educational commitments around four dimensions of teachers work: social critique, identity formation/negotiation, affiliation, and institutional change. The author also identifies and integrates the voices of teachers at the grassroots level into this holistic model of teachers' work as part of a discussion of its strengths and possible uses for educators and teacher educators.

This study demonstrates that, regardless of their educational approach, the work of teachers forms an inevitable political grounding for teaching and learning. An understanding of the work of social critique helps focus the work of teachers and schools on issues of broad social importance. Identity work connects curriculum, pedagogy, and school structures to the self-understanding of individual teachers and to students' experience in the various social groupings that shape their schooling. Affiliation helps educators focus on the complex connections and relationships that enable groups within schools to raise questions and challenge commonly held assumptions. Institutional change work, guided by this understanding of activism, becomes a dynamic series of actions that allocates social and material resources within the school setting. Taken together, these forms of work encompass nearly every activity in which teachers and school administrators engage. Clarity about the purposes and intersections of these dimensions of work can serve to focus human, material, and conceptual resources on the most critical aspects of schooling.