Who am I as teacher? Promoting the active positioning of self within teaching realities

Black, Alison Lizette (2000) Who am I as teacher? Promoting the active positioning of self within teaching realities. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


What it means to teach is becoming progressively more complex and ambiguous. For teachers, remaining confident about personal conceptions of teaching is becoming ever more difficult as a result of increased demands and changing educational environments. It is not surprising then, that the teachers who engaged in the collaborative inquiry in which this thesis is grounded so often asked "Who am I as teacher?"

Six narrative accounts are developed in this thesis from data gathered while working with fourteen early childhood teachers employed in child care centres. During fortnightly meetings, across a period of five months, the researcher worked with two groups of teachers in a process of collaborative inquiry. The accounts highlight the many forces that make working in the contemporary work context of child care unique and sometimes difficult, and highlight teachers' meaning-making in everyday teaching situations. Attention to the dynamism and intensity of this contemporary workplace, and identification of ongoing dilemmas, provided a place to understand what it means to be a teacher within the realities of contemporary educational settings. Providing a collaborative context for acknowledging these realities, whilst re-directing reflection to focus on 'self-as-teacher' encouraged teachers to view the multiplicity, contradiction and emotion of their work differently. Situating self in the work context provided an opportunity to encompass more than evidence of ambiguity, to tune into enduring images and personal conceptions of being a teacher.

The narrative methodology employed in this thesis united several forms of data representation. Conversation, metaphor, drawing, and written reflection in the form of life history writing and journal writing which mapped dilemma experiences, enabled teachers to make multiple probes into their ways of knowing about managing the ambiguity, contradictions and competing imperatives characteristic of many everyday teaching situations. Combining these forms of data representation encouraged teachers to consider the ways past experiences, present circumstances and visions for the future influenced their images of self-as-teacher and teaching actions. These were useful tools for eliciting the products and processes of reflection, self-awareness and change in practice. Creative, non-linear forms such as visual imagery and writing, together with narrative reporting were catalysts for revealing multiple connections and meanings for actions. Using the construct of image as the lens through which to view these meanings enabled the emergence of many dimensions of teachers' ways of knowing including emotions, moral and ethical values and dilemmas, and ideals about teaching. Collaborative meaning-making supported teachers' efforts to re-construct what they knew about the knowledge that informed their teaching. Attending to these personal ways of knowing enhanced teachers' understanding of themselves and their teaching context.

As they made sense of their feelings, current knowledge, need for knowledge and how these related to work dilemmas, teachers found they could picture more clearly their teacher selves. They were also able to author more deliberatively their place in their harmonious, discordant, rhythmic and irrhythmic world of work.

To capture the dynamism involved in actively positioning self to teach, this thesis draws on a metaphor of teaching as 'a making of a music'. The metaphor focuses attention on what teachers do to position themselves within teaching realities, in ways that create a workable fit between their ideals, their abilities and the demands of situations. The metaphor makes it possible to portray the dynamics through which feeling and responding to dissonance in teaching realities, and attending to personal professional knowledge, encourages active creating and intentional acts. Of importance is the interplay and interconnectedness of practical knowledge, teaching realities and teaching identity.

This thesis argues that self-directing teachers, who continually strive to improve their practice, have the ability to become critically aware of vibrations, rhythms, tonal qualities and discord in their work milieu and are able to work within these to make teaching like 'a making of a music'. The knowledge required to do this is not so much a matter of technique, knowing how to instruct, how to observe, how to manage behaviour and so on. It has more to do with knowing that work contexts inevitably shape what it is possible to do as a teacher, and that teaching identities are constructed and re-constructed within the particulars of time, place, relationships, rules, routines and experiences.

The thesis draws on the narratives to construct a theory of practice that is grounded in teachers' ways of knowing their experiences, their teaching contexts and themselves as teachers. It proposes four principles of practice for supporting teachers in their efforts to be the teachers they want to be. These principles direct attention to the need for teachers to acquire knowledge and skill conducive to dealing effectively with teaching realities. They were generated through attending carefully to what the teachers in this inquiry, and those reported in other studies, reveal about their teaching realities and what they consider they need to know in order to teach. The first principle of practice, which is an overarching principle for the other three, is:

An orientation to teaching that includes understanding of self and context, will support teachers' efforts to act intentionally within the intensity and ambiguity of contemporary workplaces.

This orientation can begin to develop when teacher education programs encourage teachers to attend more closely to the interplay of personal conceptions of what it means to teach and the realities of teaching contexts; to understanding what it means to act intentionally within the dynamism, intensity and ambiguity of contemporary workplaces.

Further enhancement of this knowledge can occur when teachers are encouraged to participate in collaborative inquiry where they probe their practical knowledge; begin to (re-)discover their teaching voice, who they are as teacher; and construct a shared understanding of what they need to know to be the teachers they want to be. Collaborative inquiry provides an opportunity for teachers to make music together: for sharing discordant experiences; for balancing internal tensions in the light of common experiences and background noise; for expressing ideas; and for gathering confidence to improvise and act. These conditions and opportunities support the development of an orientation that includes understanding of self and context. Thus principles 2-4 are:

Teachers' sense-making efforts are supported by opportunities to (re-)discover voice through collaborative inquiry.

Teachers' sense-making efforts are supported as they examine the everyday experiences and tensions of educational life.

Teachers' sense-making efforts are supported as they engage in (re-)constructing practical knowledge.

In this thesis, the teachers gained a deeper understanding of their practical knowledge and contextual dilemmas. This set the stage for teachers to deal more intentionally with work demands. Locating self, understanding the relationships between teaching images and teaching situations, brought strategies for managing workplace ambiguity. Locating self reminded these teachers of the melody they wished to create, and triggered the imagining of new ways to weave this melody into the existing textures and tensions of teaching.

Impact and interest:

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ID Code: 16045
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Berthelsen, Donna & Halliwell, Gail
Keywords: Teacher, Teachers, Teaching, Self, Awareness, Identity, Early Childhood
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Education
Current > Schools > School of Early Childhood & Inclusive Education
Department: Faculty of Education
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 03 Dec 2008 03:55
Last Modified: 10 Apr 2015 02:55

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