The affective atmospheres of international schools

Year: 2019

Author: Kostogriz, Alex

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Over the past decade, international education has received renewed attention due to its rapid growth and the emergence of new forms of schooling. No longer perceived as merely the outposts of foreign education for privileged expatriates and local elites, international schools now increasingly provide academic credentials to children of the local middle class. Driven by the demands of this class for quality education and global mobility, these schools offer to local students both internationally recognized and local curricula, as well as bilingual learning environments. The current trend has also triggered more diverse hiring practices, representing a mixture of local teachers, Anglo-Western international teachers and non-Western expatriate teachers. This implies different scales of the teaching workforce mobility across and within national borders. Although these mixed-hire schools are attractive to many foreign and local teachers, they also present certain professional, cultural and linguistic challenges that put the teachers in precarious situations. Thus, it is becoming increasingly urgent to understand workplace arrangements that generate precarious experiences of teachers.

This paper uses the concept of affective atmospheres to explore relational tensions and their effects on teachers’ work. Empirical data are drawn from two case studies of schools located in the two major countries that provide international education. The data sets include interviews with school leaders, international and ‘local’ teachers, as well as site-specific texts and photography. The analysis has focused on tensions experienced by teachers in these schools. In particular, the paper investigates how the politics of micro-management, unexplained top-down decisions, workload demands, unequal pay, professional misrecognition and communication barriers serve as a stepping stone towards understanding the affective labour of teachers. This labour occurs in the relational space of teaching practice where teachers interact with others and the workplace environment. It, therefore, cannot be limited to individual perceptions but instead, should be understood as intersubjective or transpersonal intensities. The paper contributes to the researching of affects in precarious workplace conditions and discusses the role of individual and collective teacher agency in changing the affective atmospheres of international schools.