Teachers in transition : becoming inclusive practitioners.
Despite the international shift to inclusive education, fundamental tensions and contradictions exist in most countries between stated policy and actual practice. An immediate concern is whether South Africa will add to this trend of adopting the rhetoric of inclusion at the expense of real reform. Implementing inclusive education policy involves not only redefining teaching practices, but requiring teachers to develop an alternative sense of themselves, not only professionally, but also as individuals. This research investigates how 20 African rural KwaZulu-Natal teachers construct their personal and professional selves in the light of inclusive education, and how they negotiate the tensions and contradictions which emerge in the process of becoming inclusive practitioners. The use of authentic narratives as the main strategy of inquiry is an attempt to better comprehend the subjective, context-specific, lived experiences of teachers in transition. Using an eclectic conceptual framework, my research leads me to recognise the complex and contingent nature of identity within the dynamic and highly complex character of the politics of difference and the politics of the personal. As teachers inhabit the murky terrain of transition, and negotiate their own transformative capacity, I am reminded of the unevenness of change, the multiplicity of factors which impact on identity construction, the diversity within and between individual teachers, and the necessity to resist reductionist, one-dimensional and linear assessments and interpretations of teachers in transition. While some teachers are beginning to rethink the role of education in emancipatory terms, and take seriously their responsibility as change-agents in creating greater social and educational equity and inclusion in schools and classrooms, thereby suggesting a renewed hope in the development of a vision of the world which is not yet, other teachers are choosing to avoid the risks of engaging with inclusion on any deep level, and are simply adopting a thin veneer of inclusion in order to appease the expectations of inclusive policy. What emerges strongly is the realisation of the powerful influence of traditionally dominant, unequal relations of power in communities at large, and within the Department of Education itself, which disempower, demobilise and discourage teachers from challenging existing social and institutional xvii structures, embracing transition and renegotiating what they might become – teachers for greater social and educational equity and inclusion.