Making social justice curricular: Exploring ambivalences within teacher professional identity

Year: 2006

Author: Ovsienko, Helen, Zipin, Lew

Type of paper: Refereed paper

This paper is based on interviews with eight teachers, all co-researchers (with a University of South Australia team) in an Australian Research Council-funded project [#], Redesigning pedagogies in the North (RPiN). We investigate the tense identity dynamics, involving ambivalences and emotional labours, among these teachers who express career commitments to serve students of a 'severely disadvantaged' region by providing 'socially just' school experiences and outcomes.

Our analysis of interview testimony shows how these teachers strive to see their students as embodying cultural 'assets' (rather than 'deficits') for learning. At the same time, in facing the formidable difficulties of 'teaching against the grain' - of working with learners who do not embody institutionally privileged cultural capital - they express ambivalences about pursuing academic achievement through rigorous curricular work, even along the alternative lines - designing curriculum units that make cultural connection with students' lifeworld 'funds of knowledge' - that the RPiN project promotes. The data suggests that these teachers feel need to protect themselves, as well as their students, from pains of 'over-reaching' for 'unattainable' goals. This leads to professional identity struggles over how to see their students as 'educable', what constitutes learning 'success', and what 'socially justice' can mean in 'disadvantaged schools'.