Date of Award


Access Restriction


Degree Name

Doctorate in Education



School or College

School of Education

First Advisor

Rebecca Stephenson

Second Advisor

Yvette Lapayese

Third Advisor

Melissa Schieble


Secondary English language arts (ELA) teachers in independent K–12 schools are well-situated to teach for social justice as they do not face the same constraints prevalent in many public schools, such as restrictive curricular mandates, high-stakes testing, and legislation resulting from the weaponization of critical pedagogy. Thus, secondary ELA teachers often have the liberty to craft their own curricula and use literature, verse, and other media as vehicles for teaching social justice. Despite an increase in empirical research examining social justice teaching in various contexts throughout K–12 education, there was a gap in the research focused on social justice teaching in the secondary ELA classroom in independent schools. To address this gap, this qualitative multicase study investigated how three secondary ELA teachers in three independent schools in Southern California perceived and enacted social justice teaching to foster critical engagement. The study further explored how teacher participants’ beliefs and practices about social justice teaching intersected with their independent schools. Cross-case analyses of demographic questionnaires, semistructured interviews, classroom observations, and class syllabi provided rich descriptions of how secondary ELA teachers understood and operationalized justice-oriented practices and demonstrated meaningful social justice teaching in the independent school context. Findings revealed teacher participants valued inclusive curricula, identity work, building relationships, the examination of literature through multiple perspectives, discussion-centered classrooms, students’ well-being, and critical engagement. Additionally, cross-case themes identified included teachers’ autonomy, commitment to growth, and the navigation of tensions associated with teaching in privileged schools.