"I think occasionally we begin to lose perspective": Teachers' views from the top of a segregated secondary school quasi-market

Year: 2017

Author: Stacey, Meghan

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This presentation draws on data from a broader doctoral study which has explored early-career teachers' experiences of teaching from across a range of socio-culturally diverse secondary schooling contexts. Here, I drill down into three of those school settings which, in level of student advantage, variously articulated, can be seen as schools of the elite. Two schools were high-fee independent schools, while the third was a public school, the latter being marketed towards an academic niche which distinguished it from other public schools in the area. At each school, one target teacher was the focus of a case study. This teacher participated in an in-depth semi-structured interview, as did one of their colleagues and a friend, partner or family member. This method, which I describe as one aimed at 'coverage' in the cinematographic sense, assists in developing a richer, more nuanced understanding of participants' lives, experiences and perspectives. I use theoretical tools drawn from the work of Bourdieu to explore the processes and practices of distinction engaged in at each school, and the ways in which teachers perceived and understood their place within the schooling hierarchy. Intriguingly, despite teachers' apparent openness in describing the marketing practices of their schools, the resulting and highly advantaged student bodies were relatively normalized, with teachers expressing some ambivalence, and at times clear contradictions, regarding the ways in which the privilege of their context affected their work. As Bourdieu has argued, the privileged in particular "do not see that which enables them to see" (Bourdieu & Johnson, 1993, p. 217), and these teachers - each themselves graduates of elite independent schools - brought with them a habitus reflecting, and developing within, significant ontological complicity with their workplace settings. It is argued that this finding is of concern in that it leads to limited understandings of both what teaching is and should be, as well as how teaching work can play into broader social and cultural dynamics of privilege. Participants' inability to see their own privilege, and their consequent inability to question it, raises serious considerations about the operation of a segregated system that allows such blinkered understandings to both develop, and to endure.