Working the iceberg : a staffroom morality play

Doherty, Catherine (2015) Working the iceberg : a staffroom morality play. [Live Performance (Play)]


This play comes from a research project about how teachers understand and sustain their work in challenging secondary school classrooms. The research asked “How DO teachers work in these classrooms?” not “How SHOULD they?” In the play you meet three teachers who speak candidly about their principles, priorities and vulnerabilities to a pre-service teacher as they move between classes and staffroom. These are real people, real quotes and real feelings taken from real interview data, not idealised guidelines for ‘best practice’. Rather than templates for practice, the play offers a variety of models, issues and food for thought to discuss in teacher education programs.

The project was interested in the moral dynamics of classrooms created under the Council of Australian Governments’ 2009 Compact with Young Australians, a policy move that required students to be ‘earning or learning till 17’ across all Australian states. By removing the unemployment benefit for this age group, and tying school attendance to family welfare entitlements, these policies effectively raised the minimum school-leaving age. The risk in this well-intended policy move is that a lack of suitable job opportunities will keep young people at school longer than they want to be there. The effects of this ‘earning or learning’ policy will impact some communities, schools and classrooms much harder than others.

The title uses the metaphor of an iceberg to refer to the complex community-school relations that lie below classroom interactions. The idea of a morality play in the play’s title refers back to a medieval form of popular play that used characters to instruct the audience in virtues and values. In the same way, this play seeks to bring to the surface and embody the different moral principles that can inform teacher’s work.

The research involved classroom ethnographies of classes for 16 to 17 years olds in non-academic pathways. Eight different teacher/ class combinations were sampled across 2 high schools, 2 TAFE colleges and I hybrid TAFE/school program in three towns experiencing chronic youth unemployment. Their timetabled lessons were observed across 3 to 4 weeks and the teachers and some students were interviewed in each site.

The project was funded by an ARC Discovery Early Career Award, 2012-214.

Impact and interest:

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73 since deposited on 04 Feb 2015
33 in the past twelve months

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ID Code: 81608
Item Type: Creative Work (Live Performance (Play))
Refereed: No
Additional Information: A video recording of a production of this play can be viewed via the QUT Media Warehouse:
Funders: Australian Research Council
Additional URLs:
Keywords: morality, teacher's work, educational policy, performed ethnography
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > EDUCATION (130000) > EDUCATION SYSTEMS (130100) > Secondary Education (130106)
Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > EDUCATION (130000) > CURRICULUM AND PEDAGOGY (130200) > Curriculum and Pedagogy Theory and Development (130202)
Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > EDUCATION (130000) > SPECIALIST STUDIES IN EDUCATION (130300) > Teacher Education and Professional Development of Educators (130313)
Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY (160000) > SOCIOLOGY (160800) > Sociology of Education (160809)
Divisions: Current > Research Centres > Children & Youth Research Centre
Current > Schools > School of Cultural & Professional Learning
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Education
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2015 Queensland University of Technology
Copyright Statement:

This publication is copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of study, research or review, as permitted under the Copyright Act, no part may be reproduced by any process without written permission of the author.
Enquiries concerning performance rights, publication, translation or recording rights should be addressed to:
Catherine Doherty,
Faculty of Education, QUT,
GPO Box 2434,
BRISBANE, Australia 4001.


Deposited On: 04 Feb 2015 23:28
Last Modified: 08 Feb 2015 22:29

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