spacer - blank
  Chapter 1
  Chapter 2
  Chapter 3
  Chapter 4
  Chapter 5
  Chapter 6
  Chapter 7
  Chapter 8
  Chapter 9
  Chapter 10
  Chapter 11
  Chapter 12
Tools for Critique: Chapter 12
Teaching to Change the World: A Profession and a Hopeful Struggle


Chapter 12, “Teaching to Change the World: A Profession and a Hopeful Struggle” provides an overview of the teaching profession today and describes some of the pressures that teachers face as they begin their careers. The chapter and the book conclude with five strategies that teachers use as they teach to change the world. These include making a commitment to hope and struggle; building a learning community; becoming a social justice activist; expanding your professional influence; and finding satisfaction in the everyday.

Chapter Headings

  • Teaching: A Powerful and Vulnerable Profession
    • The Challenge of Learning to Teach
    • Professionalism in the Face of Limited Professional Support
    • Teaching in a Changing America
    • Teacher Shortages and Budget Shortfalls
    • Teacher Retention and Attrition
    • Teachers’ Salaries and Working Conditions
    • What Is a Good Teacher? A Professional and Political Question
    • Teachers’ Unions
  • Strategies for a Career to Change the World
    • Becoming Part of a Learning Community
    • Becoming a Social Justice Activist
    • Expanding Your Professional Influence
    • Committing to Critique and Hope
    • Finding Satisfaction in the Everyday
  • Welcome to the Hopeful Struggle

Generative Questions and Activities

    Teaching to Change the World: A Profession and a Hopeful Struggl

  1. The authors refer to teachers who enter the teaching profession because of their commitment to teach for social justice.  What do you think they mean by social justice?  Would you offer an alternative definition, or do you largely accept the authors’ definition?  Do you consider yourself to be a social-justice teacher?  Why or why not?

  2. The authors state that, “navigating toward socially just teaching and education requires a full and unblinking understanding of … the education status quo.” This statement implies that many people do not fully understand of the extent of unjust education and teaching; and it further implies that many people purposefully ignore unjust education.  Have you ever encountered decent, well-meaning, and highly competent teachers who seemed to be out of touch with how inequality pervades education?  Suppose that you wanted to engage such a person in a conversation about social justice.  Select a paragraph (or an entire “argument”) you have read in Teaching to Change the World that you would ask such a teacher to read in order to open this discussion.   Feel free to edit or modify the authors’ words.  Explain why you selected this particular reference.

    Teaching: A Powerful and Vulnerable Profession

  3. The authors refer to the popular belief that teaching requires little training or preparation and that great teachers simply have a “gift.”  Do you agree with this belief?  Based on what you already know about teaching, give concrete examples of how this is or is not true.

  4. The current economic recession has led to many budget cuts in schools districts across the country. Research the local district you plan to teach in. How have budget cuts affected teaching and learning in the schools? Compare your findings from researching your own district to budget cuts (or lack thereof) in another district or state. Try to choose two districts that serve different student populations (e.g., low-income students of color vs. white middle-class students).

  5. In describing teacher attrition, the authors comment that “teachers are leaving the classroom at rates close to or above the rate of new teachers entering the profession,” noting that three quarters of those leaving are doing so for reasons other than retirement.  Why do you suppose these teachers are leaving?  Would these same reasons make you want to leave teaching?  How long do you see yourself staying in the classroom?  Why?

  6. Research suggests that salaries are less important than other reasons for teachers who decide to leave teaching.  As a prospective teacher, how important is salary to you?  Would a higher salary make poor working conditions more bearable?  Interview teachers at a school with which you are familiar.  How important is salary to them?  Inquire about their working conditions.  What would they want to improve? 

  7. Ask teachers what they like best about teaching.  Try to probe beyond quick answers that would include “the kids,” or “my colleagues.”  After a bit of interviewing, determine if their reasons reach outside themselves and their immediate relationships.  Do they mention commitments to their communities, passions for fairness, anger at injustice, or hope for a better world?  Try not to “put words into their mouths,” but see if they respond to these reasons for teaching.

  8. How are teachers evaluated in your state? Research recent teacher evaluation policies, then discuss the current push for evaluating teachers using value-added measures with teachers, teacher educators, parents, and community members. What do these different stakeholder groups know about these measures and what they claim to do? How do they feel about teachers’ value-added scores being published in the newspaper? Do they have suggestions for how to improve teacher evaluation without publicly shaming educators?

  9. Search a local or national newspaper for stories about teachers’ unions in the past year or two (don’t forget opinion pieces). How are the unions portrayed? Do articles and op-eds tend to be one-sided, or does the newspaper show unions from multiple perspectives? What conclusions can you draw from reading these articles? How is your opinion (and the general public’s) about unions influenced by the news media? What other factors promote anti-union sentiment? Do you think it’s warranted?

  10. The authors discuss the importance of teachers’ working conditions, including support and recognition from administrators. Think of the good teachers that you have observed.  Do you feel that these teachers are duly recognized and adequately supported by their administrators and/or by the school district in which they work?  Where or from whom do these teachers receive recognition and support? Explain. 

  11. Many theories can be used to support social-justice teaching.  At this point in your experience, what theories (or parts of theories) seem most intriguing and/or most helpful in enabling you to make sense out of schools and your own teaching?  Give an example of when theory (for example, constructivism, sociocultural theory, critical pedagogy, or cognitive learning theory) has helped guide your understanding of what you observe or experience in a classroom.

    Strategies for a Career to Change the World

  12. The authors point to a long list of challenges faced by teachers who work in poor urban and rural schools.  However, in the spirit of educators such as Freire and Dewey, they also suggest that teachers who stay in the profession do so because they think of democracy as an ongoing struggle—a struggle in which they are eager to participate.  On the other hand, many people entering the profession are looking for something else.  They would like to “settle in” to a well-equipped school with well-trained colleagues where nearly all the students come well-prepared to learn the teachers’ lessons.  There, the most significant challenges are in refining one’s own personal skills and competencies with a few obstacles set up by factors beyond the teacher’s control.  Compare this commonly held desire with the democratic and social-justice challenges above.  What do you look forward to most?  If you look forward to confronting certain challenges, what specific challenges do you anticipate?  How do you intend to address them?

  13. The authors emphasize the importance of becoming part of a learning community.  Have you ever seen a school that functions as an effective and supportive learning community?  If so, what characteristics and practices do you think made it successful?  If not, what characteristics and practices would you like to see in your future school?  How will you help build this type of learning community?  What will your personal contribution be?

  14. The term “social justice advocate” is used throughout this book.  Do you consider yourself a social justice advocate?  Have you seen teachers who you consider to be social justice advocates?  Consider the three principal ways that the authors suggest teachers can become social justice advocates: (1) countering deficit thinking with community strengths, (2) engaging in critical dialogue about the limits and possibilities in students’ lives, and (3) acting for change.  Select one of these and describe how it might influence your own approach to advocating for social justice once you begin teaching.  Give specific examples based on your observation or experience.

  15. The authors emphasize an ongoing process rather than a particular end goal in the struggle for social justice (to struggle for social justice is to engage in social justice).  Out of this struggle, they are hopeful that tangible social-justice changes will take place.  Others find this too timid an approach.  They argue that until educators and others directly confront the economic, political, and social inequalities that are at the root of injustice, little can be gained toward making schools more socially just.  Which of these positions do you identify with more strongly?  Is it possible to subscribe to some of both?  Describe where you stand and explain why.

  16. The authors believe that urban teachers who combine their commitments to student learning and social justice are more fulfilled and are therefore less likely to leave the teaching profession.  Oftentimes, this commitment to social justice is manifested through the teacher’s own activism and by the alliances she or he forges with members of the community.  Consider the school where you would like to work once you begin teaching.  How well do you know that community?  What resources are available to the families that live and work there?  How can the relationships you develop with allies in the community also translate into the work you do with your students?

  17. Ramón Martínez states, “Critical educators must . . . step up and take a stand.  In defense of educational justice and sound pedagogy, we must engage in forms of individual and collective resistance.  If we truly seek to empower our students, we must begin to challenge the educational policies that serve only to harm them.” (See Focal Point 12.2.)  Some argue that in order to be a social-justice teacher, you must also engage in your own activism.  Do you believe this to be true?  Why or why not?  What are some educational issues around which you might be motivated to take action?  What are some forms of individual resistance in which you might engage in order to bring about change at your school?  What are some forms of collective resistance in which you might engage?  In your view, why might collective resistance be necessary?  How can individual and collective action work together to bring about change? 

  18. Freire emphasizes the role that hope plays in the struggle for social justice, yet he asserts, “the idea that hope alone will transform the world . . . is an excellent route to hopelessness, pessimism, and fatalism.”  How do you make sense of this paradoxical position?  What did Freire mean?  In addition to hope, what else do you suppose Freire felt was required to bring about social transformation?  Give some practical examples.

  19. The authors argue that many of the teachers quoted in this book are committed to a “hopeful critique,” which they compare to Cornel West’s “prophetic pragmatism” and Paulo Freire’s “pedagogy of hope.”  As you embark on a career in teaching, what aspects of American schooling are you prepared to critique, denounce, and struggle against?  What gives you hope that these things can be changed—that your struggle will be successful?  How will you nourish that hope in difficult times so that you can continue teaching to change the world?

  20. This chapter has many quotes from practicing teachers – some first-year teachers and other more experienced educators. Which quote or quotes from this chapter (or the book) is/are particularly salient for you? Why? How will you take these teachers’ words and incorporate them into your own teaching practice?

  21. Herbert Kohl’s words at the end of this chapter slightly reframe the notion of “hopeful struggle.”  In addition to encouraging teachers to struggle against educational inequalities and injustices, he also encourages us to struggle for what we believe.  Think about your own philosophy of education.  What do you believe?  What will you struggle for
    spacer - blank
About the New Edition About the Authors Digging Deeper Tools for Critique