Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Secondary Education

Major Professor

Howard Johnston, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

James Duplass, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Jane Applegate, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Robert Dedrick, Ph.D.


Teacher education, Educational law, School policy, Expression, Religion


Every year teachers find themselves involved in conflicts dealing with violations of students' First Amendment rights to freedom of expression and freedom of religion. Students and parents file lawsuits against school districts because they feel teachers and administrators have violated their First Amendment rights. As a result, many teacher preparation programs require pre-service teachers to learn about educational law and the rights students have at school. Yet, little research exists about how well pre-service teachers are prepared to deal with First Amendment issues in the classroom.

The purpose of this study was to investigate how well pre-service teachers are prepared to deal with First Amendment issues in the classroom. This study reviews the literature regarding the need for educational law in teacher preparation, historical cases providing guidance to teachers regarding students' First Amendment rights in the classroom, and recent court cases involving conflicts between students and schools regarding students' First Amendment rights. Using a mixed-methods approach, the researcher investigated pre-service teachers at a large urban college of education using a survey developed by the researcher and interviews with a sample of the pre-service teachers.

One hundred and ten secondary pre-service teachers submitted surveys, and 10 pre-service teachers participated in interviews. Using analyses of variance, the researcher found that there was not a statistically significant difference between the scores or confidence levels of pre-service teachers based on their subject area or their academic level (undergraduate/graduate).

The knowledge that pre-service teachers have acquired is derived from experiences while in school, teaching, or in their coursework. In addition, when pre-service teachers have a personal experience with a First Amendment issue, they are more confident in their knowledge and more likely to take action in dealing with the issue.

Pre-service teachers use several criteria when making decisions regarding First Amendment issues. These criteria include school policy, sense of right or wrong, offensiveness, and personal apprehension. Information about pre-service teachers' knowledge and how they make decisions regarding First Amendment issues provides teacher educators with valuable information for building a curriculum that prepares pre-service teachers to deal with First Amendment issues in the classroom.