Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Education (Ph.D)


Administrative and Instructional Leadership

First Advisor

Rene S. Parmar

Second Advisor

Randall F. Clemens

Third Advisor

Barbara Cozza


Scholars and associations committed to powerful social studies education have long advocated for students to explore controversial issues so they grow into informed, ethical, and participating citizens. Yet, teachers avoid undertaking this work due to a lack of training, confidence, or experience in facilitating courageous conversations about tough issues. Teachers may fear facing complaints and retribution. They may worry about how to defuse classroom tensions and manage strong emotions. While scholarship on teaching controversy has primarily focused on preservice and in-service teachers’ views and experiences, research examining teacher educators’ perceptions and practices has been limited. The purpose of this qualitative case study was to understand how twelve secondary social studies teacher educators understood and taught controversy. The study examined how they prepared preservice teachers for the challenges of teaching controversy. Three research questions framed the focus for this study: What are secondary social studies teacher educators’ attitudes toward teaching controversial issues? How do secondary social studies teacher educators approach the teaching of controversial issues in their courses? How do secondary social studies teacher educators prepare preservice teachers to handle the challenges associated with teaching controversial issues? Using case study methodology, I conducted semi-structured video conferencing interviews with participants and collected teacher-provided artifacts. Several key findings emerged. The teacher educators agreed teaching controversy helps to prepare young people to become active citizens and is most effective when taught using an interdisciplinary approach. In their methods courses, the teacher educators modeled how to build a classroom community and handle disclosure. They guided preservice teachers in defining and identifying examples of controversial issues as well as locating and examining reliable sources. They modeled practical strategies for steering civil discourse and exploring multiple perspectives. The teacher educators discussed personal and external obstacles that may discourage preservice teachers from broaching contested issues. To overcome these challenges, they advised preservice teachers to build positive relationships with stakeholders, cultivate an emotionally safe classroom space, and seek ways to grow. The study has implications for leaders and teachers in teacher education and secondary education settings. Recommendations for future research related to the findings reached are presented.