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Ethnography in Education, University of Pennsylvania (February 2019) – presentation of findings: An actor-network theory analysis of actors influencing the formation of teacher professionalism

Unsworth, Ruth ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-4900-3590 (2019) Ethnography in Education, University of Pennsylvania (February 2019) – presentation of findings: An actor-network theory analysis of actors influencing the formation of teacher professionalism. In: Ethnography in Education, University of Pennsylvania (February 2019), February 2019, University of Pennsylvania, USA.

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Abstract

An actor-network theory analysis of actors influencing the formation of teacher professionalism. Over time, views on the role of the teacher have changed dramatically. Views of teaching as a vocation along with other ‘caring’ roles such as nursing (Menter 2009; Inglis 1989; Sockett 1993) altered in the post-war political drive towards ‘professionalising’ the role (Ball 2008; Oancea 2014; Gitlin & Labaree 1996). In the following decades of increasing prescriptions of teacher training requirements, of curricula, of pedagogy and assessment, opinions in the literature and policy began to divide as to the status of teaching as a vocation/profession/semi-profession (Carr 2000). These professionalising efforts have been viewed as ‘deprofessionalising’ (Hargreaves & Goodson 1996) in terms of a reduction in professional agency (Buchanan 2015; Ball 2015; Black 2009) and as overly focused on marketisation (Ball 2003; Ball 2016) and accountability (Ball 2008; Buchanan 2015; Taylor Webb 2005; Kogan 1989). A resulting dichotomy emerged in the field between prescribed practice and teacher beliefs, with detrimental effects highlighted regarding teachers’ professional identity development and morale (Day & Sachs 2004; Sachs 2001; Biesta 2007; Little 1990).

Out of this history arose a debate around the nature of teachers’ professionalism, with diverse studies seeking to define the term: bureau professionalism (Reeves 2007); activist models (Sachs 2000); restricted and extended professionalism (Hoyle 1982); to name but a few. Each definition carries variations according to central defining factors and combinations of policy-led and practitioner-led views.

Disparities in definitions can also be found in national policy, with many western countries seeing several versions of ‘standards’ or ‘competencies’ documents, which themselves vary to the teaching standards/competencies documents of other countries (Ministry of Education 2009; MCEECDYA 2011; DfE 2011). The influence of such ‘standardising’ documents is questionable: although there is some evidence to suggest that standards documents influence the shaping of curricula and professional training programmes (Ceulemans et al. 2012), there is little evidence to support that these have any standardising impact on practice (Tummons 2016), perhaps due to variations within human interpretation and translation of written documents (Tummons 2014). Teacher professionalism thus remains a concept without a universally agreed definition and as such, problematic.

From within this uncertainty can be seen the complexity and fluidity of teacher professionalism – an ever-changing term, linked to the political climate, to national priorities as well as to context (Livingston 2016; Flores & Day 2006; Evans 2008). This complexity, as well as the recognition of the importance to professionalism of teachers’ beliefs and professional identity development (Beijaard 1995; Biesta 2009; Pajares 1992), has led to arguments for more contextualised views of the term (Talbert & McLaughlin 1996; Ball & Goodson 1985; Clandinin & Connelly 1996), viewing the enactment and espousement of teacher professionalism from the inside out.

Viewed as a situated construct, teacher professionalism can be seen as fluid, dynamic (Jones et al. 2008), forming and reforming according to the influencing factors. These factors may be both human and non-human (policies, environment, proforma, etc) and threaded over time and space through layers of context (economy, politics, policy, community, immediate environment). Rather than attempting another overarching definition of teacher professionalism to add to the debate, this study sets out from within the complexity of the term as situated in time and space, to bring to light the interactions and power structures of human and non-human actors whose workings have created a temporarily stabilised understanding of teacher professionalism in one institution.

Using ethnographic methodology and an actor-network theory (ANT) approach, the aim is to lay bare the assemblage (Law 1994) of an iteration of teacher professionalism – the influencing factors which make up its perception and enactment – and trace how these came to bear such influence.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Status: Published
Subjects: L Education > L Education (General)
L Education > LB Theory and practice of education
L Education > LB Theory and practice of education > LB1501 Primary Education
L Education > LB1705-2286 Education and training of teachers
School/Department: School of Education, Language and Psychology
URI: http://ray.yorksj.ac.uk/id/eprint/5645

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