Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Urban Education


Wendy Luttrell

Committee Members

Sherry Deckman

Anthony Picciano

Anna Stetsenko

Subject Categories

Community-Based Research | Educational Sociology | Social and Cultural Anthropology | Social and Philosophical Foundations of Education | Work, Economy and Organizations


Power, Authority, Identity, institutions, Culture, education


Schools are unique institutions where structural and cultural dynamics shape the actions of humans. Teachers work within structures of power to establish themselves as legitimate figures of authority worthy of the right to command respect. Such efforts are complicated by the multi-faceted and swirling relationships of power that exist everywhere in schools, defining and guiding individuals. In this study, I interview and observe the practice of seven secondary teachers working in New York City public schools. All in their third year of teaching, they were at an interesting time in their development, not novice teachers and not quite veteran. Using a grounded theory approach, I analyze and interpret their reflections on seeking to establish positive classroom cultures as well as trying to make an impact in their larger school communities.

My participants spoke of teaching as a process of constant negotiation; they imposed an order on their classrooms by controlling time, space, and resources, yet also modulated their efforts to meet the initiatives of students. When expectations were challenged, they showed a range of responses, sometimes cementing their moral legitimacy, at other times resorting to actions like yelling, threats, and consequences that might be interpreted as harsh. They navigated complex and shifting structures of power within their school, including ritualistic sites of evaluation, to carry out their own agendas. Their practice showed a dialect relationship between power and knowledge and used constructed ideas of learning to cement their authority. Sometimes they challenged the hierarchy of schools to create spaces of shared learning. Emerging from their words and re-tellings is a picture of teaching as self-creation through confrontations with questions of power and authority. As teachers sought their own answers, they showcased a joint transformative growth, a “becoming,” through their work with students and the community.