Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Linguistics, Applied

First Advisor

Kimberly Urbanski

Second Advisor

Jaran Shin

Third Advisor

Panayota Gounari


Since the passage of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) in 2014, there has been renewed questioning about the nature and purpose of adult education programs in the United States, including English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL). The heavy workforce development orientation of the new law is a starker manifestation of trends focused on job training which have been sweeping through the field of adult education for the last few decades. In the midst of these shifts, little research has been done to investigate what the educators charged with meeting these policy goals think about these changes, the nature of their work in this context, and how they negotiate any challenges or contradictions the situation presents. This case-study used cultural historical activity theory (CHAT) and a thematic analysis to investigate adult education ESOL teachers' perspectives about this system and their own agency within it. CHAT informed the project during its preliminary phases. The study found that the greater resources and rule-making powers of the federal policymaking activity system exert pressure on the local adult education activity system, transforming teachers’ imagined objects into the economic outcomes prioritized at the federal level. Despite this, the teachers in the study creatively used their own agency to interact with the tools, community, and division of labor within their programs, in an effort to preserve their own goals.