Disrupting Heteronormativity in Early Childhood Teacher Education: Reflections From a Teacher and Student

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Paper presented during a panel session at the American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting

Abstract Purpose We argue that teachers, in their position of power, can reinforce, deconstruct, or disrupt heteronormative discourse through their interactions with students and course design. Teacher educators in particular serve a vital role in training future teachers in how to identify, critique, and combat such discourse. Thus, the purpose of this presentation is to share the anti-heteronormative practices Author A used while teaching a course on human development, as well as the implications for students’ professional practices based on Author B’s experiences. We also identify improvements for future iterations

Theoretical Framework This work used interactionist theory, queer theory, and the notion of nonunitary subjectivity. These frameworks investigate the self while rejecting a self that is predetermined (Green, 2007). Queer theorists such as Plummer (2003) emphasize the body, flesh, and embodied lived experience. Nonunitary subjectivity (Bloom, 1996) embraces fragmentation and multiplicity; i.e., one’s subjectivity can change over time and in relation to systems of dominance.

Methods and Data Sources This work utilized a practitioner-based approach (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2009; Cohen, Lesnick, & Himeles, 2007; Hubbard & Powers, 2003; Schön, 1987). The course we investigated covered neonatal to early adolescent development (age 11) at a large urban research university. It met requirements for education, speech pathology, and nursing majors. The education department established the syllabus and textbook (Berk, 2014), but instructors could add materials or assessments if needed.

About one year after the course ended, we met regularly to critically discuss (e.g. Schuck, Aubusson, & Buchanan, 2008) the course data: the required textbook (Berk, 2014), lectures, assignments, instructor’s notes, and Author B’s assignment products. We identified exemplary data that employed an anti-heteronormative approach. We then discussed these in more depth, journaled individually, and identified their implications for our current practices.

Results As a queer anti-racist feminist educator, Author A embodied a pedagogical approach that reflected both “anti-work” and “ally-work” (Clark, 2010, p. 705). This entailed a close reading of the course text (Berk, 2014) that found little to no positive representations of LGBT and intersex children. Author A shared with the class the research strategies used to select resources that were empowering and showed youths’ agency.

Author A also designed several activities, discussion formats, and assignments that encouraged students’ reflection on their own beliefs and stereotypes, and practiced strategies for disrupting heteronormative discourse. These assignments included a journal about the implications of the textbook’s erasure of intersex children, and in-class activities on funding girls’ after-school sports.

As an early childhood preservice teacher, Author B argues that these topics should be discussed more frequently in education programs. The journals promoted critical thinking by connecting narratives about lived experiences with developmental theory. Also, by critiquing our text, we practiced analyzing heteronormative discourses. These discussions and activities helped Author B to feel more prepared for her future classroom.

Scholarly Significance Practically, this presentation shares our reflections about a course that disrupted heteronormative discourses in teacher education to help teacher-educators/researchers identify what they can adapt locally. Methodologically, this work embodies “radically inclusive teaching” (Lesnick & Cook-Sather, 2010).


American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting


New York, NY