The 'Highly Qualified Teacher' Trope: Democratic Professionalism and Educational Policy in the Face of Risk, Uncertainty, and Blame

  • JoVictoria Nicholson-Goodman Penn State University, Harrisburg
Keywords: Critical Pedagogy, Social Justice, Democracy, Professional Development, Neo-liberalism, Highly Qualified Teacher, No Child Left Behind, Education Policy, 21st Century Skills, Professionalism, Teaching, Neoliberalism


The descriptor, 'highly qualified teacher,' serves as a trope in educational reform rhetoric that invites interrogation if it is to be vaunted as a key signifier of utopian thinking about improving American education in our times. Such interrogation may be furthered by informed awareness of the past, critical attentiveness to the present, and engaged openness for a future that reaches towards democratic aspiration as its guiding ethos. A trilateral orientation of historical awareness, policy critique, and democratic educative theory are linked to interrogate how ‘quality’ as a construct is constrained and distorted in talk about ‘21st century skills’ and teacher quality as guarantors of global economic competitiveness. Of primary concern is how the distortion manifests in the face of risk and uncertainty as features of a ‘culture of blame’ under a neo-liberal logic that replaces democracy with corporatist control. The ‘highly qualified teacher’ trope is interrogated and subverted as it is contrasted with a ‘democratic conception of professionalism’ and  ‘wide-awakeness’ in ‘the nightmare that is the present’.

Author Biography

JoVictoria Nicholson-Goodman, Penn State University, Harrisburg
Assistant Professor of Educational Foundations, School of Behavioral Sciences & Education