Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Urban Education


Susan Semel

Committee Members

Ofelia García

Wendy Luttrell

Subject Categories



The complex and crucial connection between families and schools is embodied in relationship between individual teachers and their students' families. Research findings demonstrate that high levels of family engagement lead to greater success for students. Such findings drive policy mandates that hold individual teachers accountable for cultivating this relationship. However, not enough is known about how such mandates are enacted on the ground. In an era when teachers are required to adhere to the standardization of curriculum and the uniform recommendations of "best practice" pedagogic models, teachers must still draw on their whole, complex, human selves when seeking to foster relationships with families. The strengths and challenges that teachers bring to this work are developed throughout their entire life histories; from early family and educational experiences, through pre-service teacher preparation, through mentoring and in-service professional development. This study was framed by a desire to understand how teachers' life and professional experiences shape their approach to working with their students' families. In order to address this question, the life histories of five teachers were gathered, documented, and analyzed to identify and explore the patterns and the tensions in how the teachers made sense of their lives and work. The life history method of research was chosen to address the purpose of this study as it offered the most apt match for illuminating the complexities of how teachers approach their work with families. The teachers selected to participate in this study all worked at the same urban, public, progressive, elementary school whose mission included a vision for a high level of family engagement. In the analysis of the teachers' life histories, issues of language, culture, race, and gender emerged. Analysis of the teachers' stories revealed that teachers' draw on the perspective of their own experiences as they develop strategies for in the very nuanced process of forging relationships with families. Additionally, this study explored the ways that teachers' work with families can be supported or thwarted by the range of conflicting perspectives and policies regarding the impact of the teacher and her knowledge on the practice of teaching.


Digital reproduction from the UMI microform.

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