Cultural memory and professional futures: Teacher professionalism beyond standards

Year: 2019

Author: Diamond, Fleur, Bulfin, Scott

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

As governments across the globe seek to position their workforce as competitive in an internationalised knowledge economy, they have looked to education to deliver a more highly skilled population. The result has been a series of reforms to education, teacher education, and teacher accountability that reshape understandings of the purposes of education. This has had an impact on the composition of teacher professional identity (Ball; 2003; 2015; 2016; Biesta, 2015; Sahlberg, 2011/2015). Teacher professional standards, and reforms to teacher education, have mobilised a powerful set of discourses about what it means to be a teacher. These discourses have emphasised understandings of professionalism that focus on technical competence and “what teachers should know and be able to do” (AITSL, 2011).

This paper draws on work by Stephen Ball (2003; 2015; 2016) in which he proposes subjectivity as a ‘site of struggle’ in an era of neo-liberal reforms to teacher professionalism and identity. A characteristic of the discourses of standards-based reforms is an insistent focus on the present and an imputed future. Indeed, an aspect of the ideological work performed by these discourses is that they are marked by “presentism” (Green and Cormack, 2015), suppressing an historical understanding of current conditions. Meg Maguire observes that these discourses work to “displace and erase any alternative and ‘counter memories’ of becoming a teacher” (Maguire, 2017, p. 483).

The paper reports on a project where the researchers interviewed late career and retired English teachers about their professional biographies. Data was generated and analysed using a “cultural memory” lens (Hirsch & Smith, 2002). Emerging from British Cultural Studies, cultural memory studies takes “everyday experience seriously” (Radstone, 2011, p. 112), analysing individual memories as implicated in larger social and historical patterns of continuity and change. Cultural memory work engages with “the question of the relationship between politics and subjectivity … between the inner and outer worlds” (Radstone, 2011, p. 112). We found that teachers with long careers were informed in their practice by ethical, social and intellectual commitments that exceeded the descriptors found in professional standards. These commitments formed a more critical standpoint from which to enact and evaluate professional practice and understandings of teacher professionalism. In current conditions, a cultural memory of teaching speaks to the need to reimagine teaching and teacher education for a more socially engaged professional future.