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Performing Critical Consciousness in Teaching: Entanglements of Knowing, Feeling and Relating

At a time when education reform is guided by neoliberalism, accountability and standardization have reshaped teaching as highly technocratic and threatened the democratic possibilities of public education. Even so, many teacher education programs have taken up the call to prepare teachers to teach for social justice, whether framed as multicultural education, critical literacy, or critical pedagogy. A construct that ties these pedagogical approaches together is critical consciousness, with the aim of some teacher education efforts to evoke critical consciousness among preservice teachers. This study focuses on exploring how nine educators from elementary grades to higher education experience and enact critical consciousness in their own work of teaching and leading schools. Using ethnographic methods for data collection, I spent a year visiting the classrooms and schools of elementary teachers, high school teachers, an art teacher, two principals and two teacher educators to learn how they thought about criticality and taught critically. I engaged with and analyzed the data through reading and writing as methods of analysis and in dialogue with theory to create a layered text (Ellingson, 2011). In the teacher education literature critical consciousness is mainly situated as a cognitive experience that individuals have or acquire. This research expands the construct of critical consciousness from a modernist view of criticality to a poststructural exploration of the production of critical consciousness. It challenges notions of critical consciousness as an individual attribute that is attained and which then functions as the source of criticality. Instead it reconstructs critical consciousness as a performed social relation and embodied experience that re/produces variations of criticality from moment to moment and across contexts. I highlight critical consciousness as intersubjective and an entanglement among rational knowing, feeling, and doing as a result of engagement with others. This study has implications for teacher education including the need to think differently about relationship-building, understanding education as political, developing critical literacy through multiple ways of knowing, and “reading” our teaching and our lives.
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