Teacher identities in policy and practice.
Mattson, Elizabeth Jeanne.
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This thesis brings together my two study and work interests, postcolonial theory and classroom-based research, in order to explore how teacher identities are constructed within the tensions between policy and practice. I begin by arguing for the usefulness and value of postcolonial theory in interpreting empirical findings because it foregrounds the politics of representation and provides good theoretical tools for examining how modernist policy discourse constructs traditional, rural teachers as subjects of difference. I use a postcolonial view of identity and agency as being always strategic and provisional, arising out of the subject's attempts to negotiate the contradictions in western modernity's false claims to universality. This view of the subject is linked with the interactionist concept of teacher strategy as arising within sites of contradiction and constraint that are generated within the wider social structure. In my attempt to identify the primary contradictions and constraints with which teachers work, I draw on empirical work carried out in local schools and argue that for rural teachers the tensions between policy and practice hinge around the disjuncture between tradition and modernity. I use Giddens (1990) to argue that, due to its origins in the West and its history of colonialism under the guise of rationality and enlightenment, modernity . cannot be integrated with tradition but can only displace or shallowly assimilate tradition. In light of this theory, I question the assumption that an imported modernist policy discourse can be contextualised and made appropriate to South African conditions. To explore this question further, I use Durkheim (1964) and Bernstein's (1971) concepts of mechanical and organic solidarity to map the features of these two different forms of solidarity onto case studies of South African schools. These case studies reveal that policy requires traditional rural schools to undergo fundamental changes that threaten the foundations on which their cohesion and effectiveness is built, leaving many schools with a profound sense of displacement. Turning to the question of the strategies teachers use to negotiate the contradictions that arise within these "displaced" schools, I find further evidence of modernity's attempts to appropriate and shallowly assimilate traditional subjects in what I perceive as a strategy of mimicry. Arguing, with Bhabha (1984), that the strategy of mimicry is a response to, and disruption of, the western modernist discourses of rationality, democracy, meritocracy and equal opportunity on which all of modernity's promises of progress rest, I examine the particular mimetic strategy of "false clarity" (after Fullan, 1991) and suggest that the often unfounded confidence of "new outcomes-based teachers"is partly a mimicry of the false clarity of policy, and the false clarity teacher development programmes which attempt to "transfer" the abstract principles and "best methods" put forward by policy by means of "generic" skills and values which are not generic at all to rural teachers in traditional contexts, and which they then tend to shallowly and mechanically mimic. In light of this discussion, I recommend that teacher development needs to pay more attention to "the singer, not the song" (Goodson in Jessop, 1997: 242) by shifting the focus from methods and principles to teachers' subjective understandings of their own work and contexts, and by strengthening teachers' grasp and enjoyment of the formal, conceptual knowledge they teach. I also suggest that, to avoid the risk of trying to prescribe and reform teacher identities, how teachers establish their own "sense of plausibility" (Prabhu, 1990) in their own contexts should best be left to them.