Volume 15, Issue 2 (2020) Teacher Education for Social Justice During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Loss, Hope & New Directions

When we made our formal call for manuscripts for this special issue on educators’ critical thoughts and responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, people in the general region of the Northwest Associate of Teacher Educators (primarily southwest Canada and northwest United States) had been in quarantine for approximately three months. Given the timeliness of the call, we gave a very short submission-and-revision turnaround timeline. We sent the call out in June and announced that our goal was to publish the special issue in the fall. And then we waited, excited to discover what the submissions would hold.

The manuscripts that we received, starting three weeks from the date of the call, exceeded our expectations in their depth and complexity of thought related to public education. Many of the writers remarked how the move to online educational platforms, intersecting with critical societal issues (related to employment and security), seemed to expose educational traditions that privilege some students and alienate others, challenging access, equity, and cultural responsiveness in education.

And, while the submissions also reflected a range in topics, they all shared one clear theme: the welfare and well-being of students. The responses to our request to attempt a reimagination of education at this time of crisis was telling: almost all focused on a vision for a yet-unrealized decency in education, for cultural sustainability, for meaningful and democratic community partnerships, and for respect for teachers and students.

Most of the authors used this moment of crisis as an analytic context. They raised questions about how this moment is embedded in on-going discourses of social (in)justice, oppression, and cultural silencing. But, they also discussed how curriculum, even virtual curriculum, may be used as a source of personal-and-cultural meaning making and well-being, as well as for societal improvement.

This special issue is dedicated to these critical educators. Here we present their analyses, stories, aesthetic engagements, and voices. We have loosely arranged the articles into three sections. The first section focuses on foundational and framing issues. The first article, donated by Bill Bigelow and published in Rethinking Schools Magazine, discusses two opposing traditions in the United States, the freedom to harm (individuals polluting the environment, not wearing masks and other PPE, owning other human beings), versus the freedom from harm (communities and vulnerable people seeking safety and security). This question of how we as educators do not harm students at this moment is central to our work. As we shift to online teaching, how do we protect and revitalize students who thrive in culturally safe spaces, who need community and inclusiveness, who need spaces to explore, and who need recognition of their cultural assets in the classroom?

This question is next taken up by Richard Sawyer in his article on the need for educators to develop and live a shared (but diverse) language of ethical engagement in the classroom, especially at this critical time. He asks, what principles guide our actions as educators to keep students from harm?

The next two articles in this section discuss the importance of educators examining their own assumptions and values in relation to their practice during this pandemic. Alisun Thompson, Lina Darwich, and Lora Bartlett examine how the assumptions we make in teacher preparation frame the choices we make. They examine how the pandemic is implicitly changing our underlying assumptions about life in classrooms and our work with new teachers, but that we rarely surface and examine these assumptions to improve our practice. Their piece suggests that the examination of our underlying meanings and assumptions, which often act as root metaphors for our actions, is critically needed at this moment in time. Brian Taberski next consider teachers’ perceptions of pedagogy, discussing that how we think about our practice matters. Asking educators to be aware of the pedagogical models and metaphors they use, the question is not about how to relocateapproaches from an in-person setting to a virtual setting. Rather, it is about how to reimagine the work in a new way.

Teresa Fowler also explores this question of teachers’ epistemological frames, as she examines the mismatch of educators’ use of an abstract, normative lens to the present moment. Using Roy’s “Pandemic as a Portal” as a transformative metaphor, Fowler asks educators to shift their concerns from their hypothetical assumptions of students’ assumed needs, to their conscious awareness of students’ expressed needs. Resonating with Maxine Greene’s (1978) call for educators’ to be wide-awake to their student’s actual lived experiences, Fowler highlights challenges educators face in trying to be vividly present to such experiences during this moment mediated by technology.

As foundational framing, two further articles explore theories of student social emotional learning. Advocating for students’ emotional well-being, Deirdre Katz, Julia Mahfouz, and Sue Romas suggest that the pandemic has exposed a crucial failing on the part of teacher educators: the lack of teacher educators’ facilitation of preservice students’ knowledge of social emotional learning. They suggest that especially at this time of vulnerability and insecurity, this omission in teacher preparation programs undercuts beginning teachers’ work with students. Zoe Higheagle Strong and Emma McMain further examine the question of students’ social emotional learning, applying a social justice framework they call Social Emotional Learning for Social Emotional Justice. Working collaboratively, they ask the question that is central to this special issue: “In the midst of social and emotional trauma and injustices, how can K-12 educators foster spaces for students of color to heal?”

The second section of the journal foregrounds human voice and educators’ and students’ lived responses to the pandemic. Stephany RunningHawk Johnson invites us into an analytical deconstruction of her life in which she uses an Indigenous Feminist framework to explore and highlight complexities and opportunities of grounded, Indigenous relationship building. Matthew Weinstein next examines the question of loss at this time—the experiences and supports now missing in his and his students’ lives, but at the same time still strongly present due to their overwhelming and in some cases devastating absences. Weinstein reminds us that negative spaces abound in our lives during this tragic moment and profoundly shape our actions. Finally, in this section Kara Gournaris discusses how new online learning formats present clear barriers for Deaf students, including their opportunities for incidental learning, for social engagement, and ultimately for forming learning communities. Her article shows that current virtual formats mediate learning spaces in ways that favor able students, while foreclosing social learning scaffolds for other students.

We conclude this special issue with four articles that offer hope and inspiration to educators seeking transformative social justice at this time. Eric López, Oscar Muñoz, and Eva Menchaca-López, sharing their work in Texas, argue that the “digital divide” separating educators and students who do not have access to technology, presents an opportunity for educators to rethink how they engage with communities. They present a community-based partnership model in which educators, community health workers, and communities work together in culturally revitalizing ways.

Ute Kaden and Karen Martin review a study about the challenges and rewards students and teacher candidates encountered in Alaska, including rural parts only accessible by plane, as they abruptly moved from live classroom teaching to online instruction. Their study highlighted that accountability and standardized testing, staples of in-person teaching, had to be minimized in the online teaching environment, while approaches that support specific, local student identity had to be carefully considered and promoted.

Next, Johnny Lupinacci adds an additional component to community engagement as he discusses a collaboration framework between educational activists and social movement activists. As a critical (re)imagining of education during this pandemic, he calls for recentering K-12 education and higher education around an EcoJustice Education framework.

In a final article of our collection, again donated by Rethinking Schools Magazine “Wash Your Hands: Navigating Grief and Uncertainty in the Time of the Pandemic,” Linda Christensen describes a class she taught on-line, at the very start of the pandemic with participants from the Oregon Writing Project. In her paper, she invites the readers into her class, indirectly allowing us to participate in the aesthetic process:

Before we turned off our videos and muted our audios, I said, “This may not be a time for a poem for you. This could be a narrative. A rant. An editorial. An interior monologue. Let this be a time and place for you to write what you need to say right now. This poem is a lift-off. Find your own path.” We wrote for 20 minutes. (para. 16)

A little later she notes,

Each of our poems signified the ways that this crisis pushed us to reflect on what lay behind and what lies ahead, fueled by our fears, our understanding of who we are and who we have been and how the unknown that loomed ahead might change us. On this first day out of school, we struggled together, through poetry, to find footing on unstable ground and community through an internet connection. (para 34).

Christensen shows us how curriculum that is animated by human voice and community can create a pedagogy of hope and resilience.

Our goals for this special issue are similar to those of Linda Christensen for her class. We see this collection of essays, reflections, and personal stories as a space for us to begin to make sense of this moment in order to move forward with a more equitable and socially just future for public education. A number of years ago Manning Marable (2007) wrote about the need to take an honest and hard look at the past (including racism and slavery) to give people a deeper understanding of the challenges of the present in order for them to more honestly and meaningfully be able to reimagine the future. We believe that an honest examination of education during this period of crisis is necessary for a recentering of public education in equitable, socially just, democratic, culturally sustaining, and progressive ways. Presenting these articles, we seek to underscore the democratic purposes of public education and the hope and humanity found within collective yet pluralistic responses of educators in a time of crisis.

With appreciation,

Richard D. Sawyer & Maika J. Yeigh, Co-editors

Featured Articles: (Thank you, Bill and Linda for your contribution to our special issue, reprinted from Rethinking Schools magazine).

The Freedom to Harm vs. the Freedom from Harm by Bill Bigelow.

Wash Your Hands: Navigating Grief and Uncertainty in the Time of the Pandemic by Linda Christensen.



Richard D. Sawyer
Maika J. Yeigh