The political work of teaching: Teachers' construction of the status "at-risk"

Donna Marie Ronzone, University of Pennsylvania

Abstract

This work reports the results of a two-year study that examined one facet of the at-risk phenomena: teachers' construction of the status “at-risk.” The status constructions were examined as they were created during teachers' use of Pennsylvania's Instructional Support Team Process—a pre-referral intervention process used prior to referral of students for special education services. Intensive participant observation coupled with formal and informal interviewing focused attention on the words and actions of teachers as they addressed their perceptions of educational risk in the course of their work. This ethnographically-grounded study provides a critical discourse analysis of elementary-school teachers' constructions of the status at-risk for specific students. A postmodern perspective on teachers' discourse that holds language as a productive process prompts a more politicized interpretation of teachers' discourse on educational risk and the social reality that it creates. The results of the study challenge the assumption that students become at-risk as an outcome peculiar only to student-centered deficiencies. The data suggest relevant connections between and among some of the contextual aspects of schooling, such as teachers' perceptions and use of time and the processes and practices that allocate the resources of compensatory and special education with teachers' perceptions of educational at-riskness. The results, which include a demographic portrait of the population of students identified by teachers as “at-risk” and as “gifted,” indicate patterns of distinction based on minority status, socio-economic status, and gender. A comparison of the composition of each group in light of teachers' discourse on educational at-riskness suggests an absence of consideration in teachers' work of the relationship between race and socio-economic status with educational underachievement. Insights from the study may hold relevance for those who inquire into the efficacy of ability grouping and the policies and practices that surround teachers' referrals of students for compensatory and special education services.

Subject Area

Educational sociology|Elementary education|Special education

Recommended Citation

Ronzone, Donna Marie, "The political work of teaching: Teachers' construction of the status "at-risk"" (1999). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9926189.
https://repository.upenn.edu/dissertations/AAI9926189

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