Narrative inquiry: A methodology for studying German migrant teachers' experiences in Australian classrooms

Year: 2012

Author: Bense, Katharina

Type of paper: Refereed paper


Despite their significant contribution to Australian school life, there has been little research into migrant teachers in Australia. The few studies which are available report difficulties with cultural adaptation for migrant teachers in areas related to pedagogy, language, and classroom management. However, research in Australia has mainly investigated experiences of teachers of Asian backgrounds, while teachers from western European countries have thus far been under-researched. As part of an ongoing research project into the experiences of German migrant teachers, this paper presents the analysis and discussion of survey data recently collected from ten German teachers.


The aim of this research is to shed light on German migrant teachers' experiences in the Australian school environment. Based on problem areas identified in previous research, the study is primarily concerned with questions regarding issues of cultural diversity in teaching methods and classroom management. The analysis of the participants' narratives will identify unfamiliar aspects and, at times, problematic experiences of German migrant teachers in Australia.


The study has used narrative inquiry to provide important insights into the teachers' experiences of adjustment to the Australian school system. This methodology was particularly suitable as the researcher's own background as German migrant teacher helped to create trusted participant-researcher relationships. Together with conducting the interviews in the participants' native language German, this enabled the capturing of rich narratives about the teachers' work and lives in Australia. A total of ten German teachers who were themselves educated in Germany but have since acquired work experience as German language educators in Australian secondary schools have participated in semi-structured interviews.


These migrant teachers' narratives revealed new perspectives on the cultural dimension of teaching practices and its effects on the individual in cross-cultural classroom situations. The teachers specifically mentioned difficulties and issues of adaptation resulting from differences in teacher status and role expectations, teaching approaches and classroom management. The exploration of these problem areas was especially detailed thanks to the narrative inquiry method, which allowed for in-depth and rich comparative data.


The German teachers' accounts of their experiences in the Australian school environment and their negotiation of familiar and new aspects, will deepen our knowledge of the cultural dimension of teaching and further our understanding of schooling in the two respective countries. These findings may inform teacher education courses and orientation programs for overseas-trained teachers, as well as stimulate debate about school policy in Australia and Germany.