Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Elizabeth Dutro

Second Advisor

Martin Bickman

Third Advisor

Margaret Eisenhart

Fourth Advisor

Kris D. Gutiérrez

Fifth Advisor

Jennie Whitcomb


This dissertation inquires into the processes by which four preservice teachers of the English language arts (ELA) negotiated competing perspectives on teacher "quality" and "effectiveness" as they moved across contexts in their final semester of coursework in university-based teacher education. While the contested matter of "quality" is currently at the center of education-reform debates in the policy arena, and a whole host of perspectives are weighing in, high-stakes accountability-driven legislation is advancing powerfully narrow conceptions of what counts as effective teaching. Research has begun to illuminate the ways in which perspectives engendered by such reforms have impacted teachers' classroom practice, but few studies have focused on how novices navigate that contested terrain in their university-based preparation to construct understandings of high-quality ELA teaching, and of themselves as high-quality ELA teachers. The present study is an attempt to fill that gap.

Grounded in sociocultural, critical, and poststructural theoretical perspectives, this qualitative study renders "quality" and "effectiveness" as necessarily contested terms. Guided by a D/discourse analytic frame (Gee, 2011a, 2011b), this work begins by critically analyzing two prominent perspectives, that is, two Discourses that frame "quality" teaching in very different ways: 1) the National Council on Teacher Quality's Teacher Prep Review (Greenberg, McKee, & Walsh, 2013); and 2) the Discourse of one university-based teacher education program. This work goes on to critically analyze four preservice teachers' language to understand how they navigated discursive contexts surrounding "quality" in learning to teach. Findings report how those novices positioned themselves in relation to contrasting perspectives on high-quality ELA teaching, for example, as advocates for equity and diversity, and as deeply committed to the human and relational dimensions of teachers' work, but also how they struggled at times to overcome dichotomous thinking and a hesitancy to "rock the boat" for fear of imagined consequences aroused by Discourses of accountability. This work concludes with consideration of how university-based teacher education might better support novices as they negotiate across dissonance in learning to teach, and foster their capacities for self-control as they navigate increasingly high-stakes contexts in an era of acute accountability.