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Critical incidents in teachers' lives: understanding teacher be-ing.

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Teachers’ lives are complex and dynamic. They find themselves in an era of new challenges and new demands. Recent literature reveals that teachers are experiencing insecurities, confusion and despair. In South Africa there has been a spate of curriculum reforms and a wave of policy changes. Added to this are the severe contextual restraints, such as large classes, lack of resources, poor school leadership, poor parental support, school violence and other social problems, such as HIV/AIDS and poverty. As teachers face these realities on a daily basis, they experience incidents that become turning points in their teaching lives and are deemed by them as ‘critical’. These are termed ‘critical incidents’. This study seeks to explore how teachers respond to these critical incidents and why they respond the way they do. The use of life history methodology allowed them to tell their stories but more than that it illuminateded how they were influenced by the contexts in which they live and work. The use of in depth interviews provided the opportunity to access their personal, professional, social and moral landscapes to reveal their lived experiences while they experienced the critical incidents. By delving deeper through the different layers of their lived realities and exploring how they interacted with and appraised the different events, their feelings and emotions were revealed. The social-psychological framework on emotions provided a frame to explore how teachers responded to the different influences, that is, the workplace influences, socio-cultural/policy influences and personal influences that came to bear on their teaching lives as they engaged with the socio-cultural milieu in which they were immersed. The study used narrative analysis, content analysis and discourse analysis to make meaning of the data. The use of multiple analysis approaches provided different lenses to interpret and understand the critical incidents. The complexities of teachers’ lives were revealed when critical incidents that were triggered by one influence provoked other influences impacting on teachers in multifarious ways. It revealed how teachers interacted with the different contexts, through their ego-identities that comprised their self-and social esteem, values, beliefs, meanings/ideas and life-goals (broader goals). The critical incidents were experienced as teachers appraised the different encounters, which resulted in either congruence or incongruence to their broader goals. An appraisal of goal incongruence led to negative emotions and an appraisal of goal congruence led to positive emotions. The thesis that emerged from the study was that critical incidents in teachers’ lives affected the teacher’s spirit. Teachers felt either inspirited or dispirited as the critical incident unfolded.


Ph. D. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban 2014.


Teachers--Job stress--Management., Teacher-counselor relationships--South Africa., Teacher morale--South Africa., Bullying in the workplace--South Africa., Teachers--Social conditions., Theses--Education.