Exploring The Affective Dimension Of Teachers’ Work In Alternative School Communities

Year: 2015

Author: Hayes, Debray

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Schools are communities where success, in terms of being a place both workers and students want to attend, is dependent upon the quality of relationships between and amongst teachers and students. The emotional, relational, and caring dimensions of teachers’ work, including youth workers and support staff, is often recognised as particularly important when working with students who have experienced marginalisation in school and society. Conceptually, this paper draws on the work of Kathleen Lynch, within a broader framework of Nancy Fraser’s understandings of social justice, to recognise that the care provided by members of a school community to each other is a matter of social justice both in relation to who gives it and who receives it. This is what Lynch refers to as ‘affective equality’. Drawing on data from alternative schools, this paper argues that a concern with affective equality in teachers’ work is critical to the success of all forms of schooling.
The study from which the data are drawn represents a ‘multi-sited ethnography’ of alternative schools, drawing on observations and semi-structured interviews with students, teachers and other workers in four alternative schools sites in Canberra, Sydney, Melbourne, and Queensland, during multiple visits over a period of 18 months in 2013 and 2014. The data were analysed using understandings of teaching as ‘relational care work’ and ‘emotional labour’; as well as the notion ‘care’ and ‘self-care’.
The teacher participants in the study expressed a strong commitment to the social and emotional well-being of their students. Affective justice, in the form of respectful, caring relationships, was of primary concern to them. Many of the students interviewed indicated that its absence in their former school(s) had been a key factor in their departure from the mainstream sector. This concern with ‘affective equality’ was thus critical to the success of such schools. We found that, at alternative settings, teachers played an important mediating role at the nexus of relationships: supporting and working with students and their families or caregivers; developing flexible structures and processes that provided a caring schooling environment; and working in solidarity with students to resist their continued marginalisation in schooling and beyond. We suggest that there is much the mainstream can learn from this schooling sector.