A paradox of knowing : teachers' knowing about students.
This study is a critical exploration and post-structural explanation of how and what teachers ' know about students. The intention has been to explore teachers' knowing beyond taken-for-granted iterations, beliefs and conceptions of those they teach and to theorise the nature of teachers' knowing. The route to insight involved deploying critical ethnography to produce data over a six-month period. The study site, a secondary school I named Amethyst, is an apartheid-era creation. Since 1990, political change has introduced uncertainties of various sorts and has destabilised the ethos and culture of the school: conflicts between teachers and students, conflicts amongst students' peers, students' participation in activities that are unacceptable and harmful, severe lack of funds to meet the financial needs of the school and lack of human and teaching resources. It is within such an uncertain space that I produced data to interrogate teachers ' knowing about students. At the site, data production was impeded by various confounding factors that eroded trust between the participants and me (the researcher). Traditionally, an ethnographic approach entails three kinds of observation: descriptive observations at the beginning, followed by focused observations narrowed to the concerns of the study and finally, selective observations to consolidate focused observations. For the data production process to continue, the researcher-researched relationship had to be assessed and reconfigured from a critical perspective. In this study the above-mentioned observations have been renamed and reconceptualised from participants' perspectives as: an innocuous phase, an invasive phase and a reciprocity phase. Furthermore, an explication is provided of how research reflexivity shaped the reconceptualisation and the data production processes. Usual forms of data production were abandoned and replaced by a conscious effort to reveal my story to participants eventuating in the form of an exchange of data - my story for their stories. Reciprocal participation enabled data production to be completed and two sets of data were generated: teachers ' stories and students ' stories. Eight teachers ' stories derived from teachers' to teachers' students' teachers' interviews were woven into texts whilst fourteen students' autobiographical accounts comprising lived ex peri ences were re-presented as they narrated them. Juxtapos ing stud ents' accounts with teachers' knowing has yielded three revelations. Firstly, unveil ing how teachers constitute students through knowing them in particul ar ways. Second ly, it reveals how students' constitution as subjects at home and at school a llow them to be known in parti cular ways and thirdl y, revealing the ways students consc iously prevent teachers from knowing about their li ved ex peri ences. The analyses of both sets of stories have dee pened understanding of teachers' knowing, taking it beyond teachers' persona l be lief systems. Plac ing both sets of data und er a criti cal gaze has yie lded three ways of teacher knowing (so li cited, un solic ited and common) and fi ve kind s of teacher knowing (rac ia li sed, gendered, cultu ra l, c lassed, and profess ional). From th e analyses, I have inferred that teachers' knowing about students, when j uxtaposed with and med iated by students' li ved experi ences, is flawed, incomplete, parti al, complex, contradictory, and uni-dimens ional. I put fo rward a th es is predicated on two abstractions from th e anal yses: one, that teachers ' knowing is dangerous because it prope ls teachers towards act ions that can result in d isastrous consequences for students; and two, that not knowing is use ful because it is a more criti ca lly and soc ia lly j ust approach to teaching as it a llows teachers to functi on without succumbing to marginali sing the non-traumati sed and those without chall enges at the persona l level. In effect it tran slates into practices that treat all students equally in an academic settin g, so that in one in stantiati on, students are dri ven to stri ve for academic ac hievement in stead of focusing on emotiona lly debilitating di stractions th at cannot be resolved by teachers' knowing, understanding, and empathy. Not knowing, I argue, offers viable poss ibilities for working with students whose li ves are compromised by low socioeconomic cond iti ons and pro bl ematic family re lati ons. This in vers ion of common-sense instincts about teachers ' knowing and not knowing IS theorised by deploying a topologica l metaphor, the Mii bius strip, to demonstrate that teachers' knowing and not knowing about stud ents are not polar oppos ites on a continuum, but are paradoxically, cohabitants of a common space, refl ections of each other, res iding in each other. Additiona lly, I charge that teachin g and caring, mediated by knowing, form the foundation of teachers' work, and argue that at Amethyst, teaching and caring cannot be activated simul ta neo us ly within an indi vidual teacher. Kcy words: critica l ethnography, teachers' knowing, paradox of knowin g.