"What's a teacher anyway?" : a construction of teacher self and teacher work in a South African primary school.
This research seeks to understand what it means to be a teacher and the experiences that shape what teachers do in the context of a primary school. In asking the question, What’s a teacher anyway? I produced data of teachers’ daily practices and social realities within their lived experiences. Located within an interpretive paradigm, I documented various identities and meanings of teachers which helped me to understand how teachers negotiate the multiple forces within the setting of a primary school. The research looked at teachers in their social context, since teachers do not work in isolation but are subject to particular social influences. Using the participatory approach, I produced data of the lives of two experienced teachers who work in a primary school in the eThekweni region of KwaZulu-Natal. The participatory methodology was most appropriate to gather the necessary data, as it allowed for the teachers’ voices to be heard. Against the social, institutional, contextual and programmatic contexts, data were sourced by means of career life-history interviews and photovoice. Through narrative analysis, the teachers’ stories were reconstructed and represented as identity categories through which they were able to construct their professional selves and their professional work. The findings that were generated from the two experienced primary school teachers were analysed and represented under the key themes of professional self and professional work. The findings offer an understanding of how practising teachers manage their work and themselves against all the changes and challenges of the South African educational landscape specifically in the schooling situation. Through the reconstructed stories by the teachers, the study makes visible how teacher identity shapes teachers and their work in the school. The data reveals that teachers have multiple identities of who they are and how they respond from their position as teachers, which clash with what is expected of them in the school. The findings show that teachers are unhappy with the curriculum and political shifts, as these are imposed on them in an arbitrary manner. The study contributes to a nuanced understanding of the relationship between teacher identity and teacher work. The study revolves around the teacher who tries to build an interesting relationship between the identities of “mother”, “teacher” and “caregiver”. Being a teacher, innovative ways are created to manage the administrative work and the curriculum work. The iii second teacher, an Indian male, as a person and an activist, growing up in a poor community, negotiates between the forces to make sense of what it means to be a teacher in the present shift, given the diversity of pupils and the various issues that accompany it. The teachers are working in a social reality and have to manage a range of challenges, difficulties and struggles. They find creative ways to negotiate the multiple roles and responsibilities and make sense of what it means to be a teacher. Due to excessive administrative and curricular demands being made on them, teachers are found to be experiencing tension and undue stress in their work while negotiating the multiple forces that surround them in the context of the school. To answer my research question, What’s a teacher anyway, I considered how they moved beyond their conventional roles and responsibilities as teachers, and how they endeavoured to make meaning and sense of themselves as successful teachers within the four dimensions of Samuel’s (2008) framework.
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