Date of Award

Summer 7-2017

Access Restriction


Degree Name

Doctorate in Education



School or College

School of Education

First Advisor

Antonia Darder

Second Advisor

Bryant Keith Alexander

Third Advisor

Dianne Hackett


Given the large homogeneous workforce of predominately White, middle-class female K–12 educators combined with the rising population of diverse students in the United States and the disproportionate achievement gap of students of color compared to their White peers, I sought to discover how new millennial educators defined and used empathy to build their own cultural competencies as well as discover how these teachers used empathy to strengthen the teacherstudent relationships across cultural differences. Using the conceptual frameworks of Paulo Freire’s (1970) pedagogy and Wang et al.’s (2003) definition of ethno-cultural empathy, I conducted a critical narrative inquiry of five first-year teachers who did not share the racial or ethnic background of the majority of their students of color. From the participants’ stories, six major themes surfaced: (a) the role of empathy in the teacher-student relationships, (b) the struggle between empathy and sympathy, (c) their contrasting views on empathy and content, (d) the relationship between empathy and cultural competency, (e) the importance of empathy related to trauma, and (f) the personal limitations of empathy. I present a proposal for a new theoretical framework resulting from the symbiotic relationship of ethno-cultural empathy and critical pedagogy, called Critical Empathy, as well as recommendations for teacher formation institutions to prioritize an empathy formation that focuses on critical empathy development, self-awareness, administrative management, and self-care strategies.