The teacher as reflexive professional: Making visible the excluded discourse in teacher standards

Year: 2012

Author: Ryan, Mary, Bourke, Theresa

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Purpose: In countries such as the UK, USA, and Australia, education has been subjected to organisational change, accountability regimes and calls for greater economic efficiency. This discourse of managerialism redefines what is meant by teacher professionalism. We argue that reflexivity is an essential element of teacher professionalism so teachers can mediate the diverse conditions within which they work. This paper examines national teacher professional standards from Australia and the United Kingdom to identify the extent to which reflexivity is embedded in these policy documents.

Method: Margaret Archer's morphogenetic approach to realist social theory provides a useful framework to understand the ways in which teachers manage competing influences and deliberate about pedagogic action in the classroom. The interplay and interconnection between individuals and social structures is crucial to understand courses of action produced by subjects through reflexive deliberation. The analytical method used to examine the teacher standards documents for evidence of reflexivity is critical discourse analysis (CDA), which is concerned with the workings of power through discourse at the macro, meso and micro levels.

Results: The two professional standards documents have similarities in their genres of governance, discourses of marketisation, and speech functions of activity exchange, however they make their case in linguistically different ways. Both of these documents metaphorically represent teachers as cogs in the bureaucratic machine, who need to be told what to do, what to know and how to be a 'good' teacher, with little acknowledgement of the complex subjective and objective influences on teachers' work.

Conclusion: These findings suggest that governments in Australia and the UK are carefully attempting to shape teachers and the teaching profession through behavioural-heavy standards, with little regard for the attitudinal, emotional and intellectual dimensions of the trustworthy professional. However, it is in the enactment of professionalism through reflexive mediation that we see real change or improvement in quality teaching.