Research reveals that for American secondary teachers, mere participation, or the desire to participate, in professional development is not a matter of concern, as many in the educational community have assumed. Yet, there is a void in the literature regarding American, lower secondary educators of literacy and their overall perceptions of professional learning. The purpose of this phenomenological study was to understand the perceptions of lower secondary English language arts (ELA)/literacy teachers, specifically in regard to what motivates these educators to participate in professional development, what they value in professional learning opportunities, the challenges that keep them from participating, and their overall professional development needs. This qualitative study draws on two theoretical frameworks, constructivism and adult learning theory, as there are varied philosophies that contribute to the understanding of a teacher’s perception of professional learning. A non-experimental, phenomenological methodology was chosen, aiming to better understand participant’s individual experiences through their comprehensive, self-reported descriptions. The population of this study consisted of experienced, lower secondary ELA/literacy teachers employed in southern California public schools. Purposive, criterion sampling was used for this research, collecting data from a total of 13 semi-structured interviews of participants from two school districts. The findings from this study resulted in five thematic categories that present the essential drivers and impediments to the participants’ involvement in professional learning opportunities: (a) teachers desire to improve their professional practice, (b) professional learning should be immediately applicable to professional practice, (c) teachers prefer to learn from other experienced teachers, (d) the culture of the school district and or site influences teacher learning, and (e) a teacher’s learning is influenced by their perception of themselves and previous experiences. Six conclusions were drawn from the thematic findings of this study. They rely upon the literature and findings to argue how teachers’ motivation, personal values, and aspirations for participation in professional learning opportunities is centered on personal and organizational factors along with the historical and current culture of American K-12 public schools.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Dissertations (EdD) -- Educational leadership, administration, and policy; Language arts teachers -- Training of -- California, Southern; Career development

Date of Award


School Affiliation

Graduate School of Education and Psychology



Degree Type


Degree Name


Faculty Advisor

McCabe, Molly;