An exploration of English first language teachers' perceptions, concerns and challenges in the desegregated secondary school classroom.
In September 1990, historic legislation enacted by the South African Government made it possible for schools that had been previously racially exclusive to admit students of other races. As a follow-up to the Penny et al. study (1992) which explored the changes brought about by the legislation in secondary schools in Pietermaritzburg through interviews with principals, this study acknowledges teachers as crucial actors in the transformation process. By focusing on the perceptions, concerns and challenges facing teachers at the "chalk face", the researcher was able to obtain a view from the inside on how the processes of desegregation were unfolding in schools. By means of in-depth interviews with ten English First Language (E I L) teachers, the researcher embarked on an exploratory study based on discovery, describing and understanding, rather than explaining. The interview schedule was designed to allow the teacher's voice to emerge clearly and to allow teachers to reasonably portray as many significant dimensions of their situation as possible. Despite the fact that teachers came from a diverse range of secondary school settings, the research design saw all teachers interviewed as educational mediators confronting the consequences of fundamental educational change in the classroom. The research argues that schools and teachers were not equipped to meet the challenges of desegregation. This was due largely to a lack of educational leadership and support, and because schools were entrapped in assimilationist modes of operation. Although all teachers interviewed were committed to desegregation, and while at least two schools showed evidence of the beginnings of a change orientation, the research argues further that deeper patterns of everyday change in schools were still to emerge. The study reveals that both the new arrivals in recently desegregated schools and their teachers faced a context of formidable challenges. Firstly, the findings highlighted the isolation of the teacher in the classroom.. Navigating the unfamiliar territory of English Second Language (ESL) teaching, and changing their methodology to teach ESL students in ElL classes, emerged as their greatest challenge. Secondly, the data was permeated with evidence of teacher concern over the fact that the new student intake in schools was marginalised academically, linguistically, culturally and socially. The research findings highlighted the need for further research to be devoted to teachers, as it is clear from the literature that they tend to be neglected by educational administrators in the planning of policy and reform. The findings in this study suggest strongly that teachers are crucial as mediators of change. Further, teachers need school and departmental support if they are to contribute to educational change. The study demonstrates that an awareness of teacher experiences in the classroom is vital if educational and curricular reform is to succeed.