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Teachers’ work in a context of adversity.

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This study investigated the nature of teachers’ work in a context of adversity at Shivta Primary School. The school is situated in an underprivileged rural township in KwaZulu-Natal known as Kalika. Social constructionism was adopted as the theoretical framework for the study and the open systems theory and Morrow’s formal and material elements of teachers’ work were employed to examine the nature of such work in a context where students hail from low socioeconomic backgrounds. A qualitative ethnographic approach was used to collect data. Interviews, focus groups and observation were used to examine the nature, complexity and demands of teachers’ work in a context of adversity. While teachers are expected to comply with national norms as well as those formulated by school management, teaching in a context of adversity generates additional challenges. The study’s results revealed that teachers’ work at Shivta Primary School is concentrated, complicated, emotionally challenging and demanding. Apart from their daily classroom activities, they are called on to provide social and emotional support to students due to the latter’s socioeconomic circumstances. The findings also indicate that the rhythm of teachers’ work is constantly interrupted by counselling and social work; administrative duties and other incidental activities. This calls for the ability to constantly respond to new situations that are outside their normal duties. The multiple interactions that constitute teaching reveal teachers’ work as complex, demanding, emerging and intensified rather than permanent and coherent. Teachers at Shivta Primary School operate within a structure that requires that they attend to matters after the school day has ended. While this may be typical of many schools, the degree of adversity confronted by students at this school makes this study atypical. It is thus recommended that policies provide for support for teachers that work in a context of adversity.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.