A teacher’s research on teachers’ work

When I began my doctoral research it was with a sense that teachers’ work is often misrepresented, and consequently misunderstood and undervalued. The public perception of teaching, largely based on the fact that everyone has experienced schooling from the other side of the desk, is often limited and unfair. Nothing frustrates me more than ill-informed focus on teachers’ short days (we go home by 4’clock don’t we) and long summer holidays (because we can’t really be exhausted enough to need six weeks off, and don’t spend holiday hours changing courses and updating resources to meet the demands of the latest prescribed curriculum or program).

The concept of teachers’ work has become harder to define and its boundaries are expanding in immeasurable ways. It is increasingly visible to the public eye (not that there is anything wrong with transparency) and has become subject to greater measures of local and national control and accountability than ever before. It’s hard to keep up with the pace of change and the demands on teachers: new curricula, achievement standards, technologies, pedagogies, professional development, and performance standards and evaluation. I don’t know what your ‘normal’ working day looks like, but I suspect that, like mine, it is more accurate to talk of teachers’ ‘day/night work’. Somewhere along my professional journey, I became conscious that I was being ‘done to’ by people and policies outside of my knowledge and understanding. To regain some sense of control, I began to explore what was shaping my work, hence my research and thesis ‘Control, shift, insert: living and enacting policy in teachers’ day/night work’. There is a great need for teachers’ voices to be heard to disrupt the discourses and misconstructions that continue to shape teachers’ lived experience in their everyday work. Where are teachers’ voices in what Dorothy Smith calls the ‘ruling relations’ (2005) that control the purpose, direction and shape of teaching and teachers’ work locally, nationally and globally?

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Narrative of self

A few years ago when starting further study, I became convinced of the value of personal narrative as a means to make sense of experience (Ochs & Capps, 1996). Of course, any self-narrative carries the risk of conveying  my ‘preferred self’, although that is not my intention. Stories are a way of knowing (Connelly & Clandinin, 1985) and, in exploring my own story as a teacher, learner and leader I hope to better understand myself and learn from others. I have been teaching for 25 years, almost half my life. I began teaching secondary school History in the UK in the early days of the National Curriculum, and then spent two years in The Netherlands teaching English as an Additional Language (EAL) at an international primary school. Since 2001, I have lived and worked in Australia as an EAL teacher, consultant and Assistant Principal. I am an aspiring Principal and a life-long learner, undertaking a Masters in Educational Leadership having graduated last year with a professional doctorate in Education. My eldest son is in his third year of teacher training and it strikes me as interesting that when he begins his teaching career his context will, in many ways, be similar to mine a quarter of a century ago. In the global education system of which we are part, international ‘policy borrowing’ (Lingard, 2010) means that he will be teaching from a prescribed national curriculum and preparing students for participation in national testing for which he will be held accountable. Yet teachers’ work has changed, as has the role of leaders, and education is often shaped more by political and economic imperatives than moral and philosophical ones. Change is a constant, and the challenge of leading and managing change is what I aim to explore in my blog.