Becoming an English teacher: The shaping of everyday professional experience in early career teaching

Year: 2019

Author: Owen, Ceridwen

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Over the last three decades neoliberal approaches to education policy have led to increases in teacher, student and school accountability, a preference for outcomes that are amenable to quantifiable and benchmarked measurement, and the standardisation of teaching and learning. In part, this is due to the global focus on developing a knowledge economy, where knowledge is an asset to be produced and distributed. The economisation of education, and the neoliberal approach to education policy, has led to a standards-based reform agenda in Australia, where the practices of teaching and learning that are not measurable are increasingly delegitimised. Schools and governments are increasingly introducing structures and systems to frame and control teachers’ work. While these are arguably encroaching on, ignoring, and quashing teachers’ practice, they are also being taken up by teachers. Teachers are productively and inventively making use of the systems and structures imposed on them in the development of their practice.

This paper reports on a PhD study that examined the situated, contextual and interpretive experience of early career English teachers. I worked with nine Victorian secondary school English teachers in their first five years in the profession across 12 months. Using a storied ethnographic approach and the lens of the everyday, I developed an understanding of the experience of teachers and their process of becoming within the complex context of schools. Utilising the work of Mikhail Bakhtin, Michel de Certeau and Walter Benjamin, I examined teachers’ daily work, routines and process of sense making, to develop an understanding of their experience, their agency in schools, and the negotiated, mediated and dialogical process of becoming. While there may be limited space amongst the crowded curriculum, and mandated assessments, and official/institutional narratives that attempt to limit the voices and professionalism of teachers, the nine teachers I worked with found ways of having agency in their work. Each of them were finding ways of making do, of using, reappropriating, and creating space within institutional systems and structures. Through dialogically and reflexively engaging in their work, and with colleagues in schools as well as externally through official and unofficial networks, teachers were finding space to consider, reflect, debate, reject, accept and modify curriculum, assessment procedures and narratives of schooling and education. Teachers were not generally apathetic or resistive, rather they were inventive, and optimistic about what was possible.