Politics in the classroom: teacher political disclosure and the decision-making of secondary social studies teachers
Zavagnin, Anthony Joseph
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Social studies teachers face a dilemma when addressing controversial issues in the classroom. Research supports the incorporation of controversial issues into the social studies curriculum as a means of encouraging authentic debate and deliberation among students. While research supports student engagement with controversial issues, the literature is far from consistent as to the role that teachers should play during these lessons. An important question remains unresolved: should teachers divulge their personal opinions to students when teaching lessons involving controversial issues? To examine disclosure, this study asks what underlies teacher decision-making regarding teacher disclosure of personal political beliefs during social studies lessons that involve controversial issues. This multiple case study interviewed twenty secondary social studies teachers across seven suburban schools about how they made disclosure decisions. 15 of the 20 teachers in this study practiced some form of teacher disclosure. For the majority of teachers, disclosure depended upon contextual factors that included the age of students, personal connection to the topic, perceptions of the school and greater community, and the nature of the topic under discussion. While the teachers in this study discussed many factors that guided classroom practice, the most prominent factor involved personal understandings of the appropriate role of the teacher during class lessons. This study involved teachers with a variety of teaching experiences, and found that teaching experience had relatively little impact on how teachers practiced disclosure. Teachers also provided best practice recommendations involving disclosure. Those who did practice disclosure recommended that teachers share their personal beliefs when the topic related to the curriculum, and towards the end of the class lesson. Participants also believed that teachers should balance controversial issues and expressly covey their beliefs to students so that there is no confusion between the teacher's personal beliefs and the curriculum. This study concluded that instead of a focus on whether teachers should practice disclosure, the conversation should shift to how teachers should practice disclosure based on the best practice recommendations voiced by participants.
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