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Title: Teachers Work And Identity : An Ethnographic Case Study of State School Teachers
Authors: Chandran, Meera Gopi
Keywords: School of Education
Disha Nawani
School Teachers - Identity - Ethnographic Study
Issue Date: 2018
Abstract: This thesis interrogates the nature of teachers’ work in relation to their identity within the context of ongoing restructuring of school education in India. Political economic questions direct education reform and shape discourse on critical issues such as nature of teaching, governance of educational institutions, notions of educational quality and so on. Teachers’ work has consequently been subject to significant changes in the last decade or so, owing to the ways in which notions of curriculum, quality, assessment, etc. have been redefined in market driven terms of efficiency, performance and outcomes. Efforts to regulate education reflect neoliberal tendencies that seek to offer cost-effective and technicist solutions to complex educational problems. These issues overlay the extant low status of teachers and teaching, and the severe historical disadvantages that school education has yet to overcome. It is well acknowledged that, it is children from marginalised sections of the society that access government schools today and it is important to ask, who is teaching the children of the poor and what kind of education do they get. This research approaches this broad question with teachers as the starting point of inquiry. This study comprises of a theoretical strand of inquiry that runs parallel with an empirical strand, each informing and directing the course of the study. The theoretical inquiry finds that teachers’ work and identity are reciprocally related to one another. Diverse theoretical approaches converge on the centrality of teacher knowledge upon which their work and identity rests. The empirical inquiry consists of an ethnographic study of school teachers in a government-aided school. Located within the tradition of interactionist ethnography wherein people’s perspectives and actions are seen as socially grounded, the objective of the study was to understand teachers’ work lives and the attendant shaping of their identities. It was found that teachers were subject to expectations that did not cohere with one another. Pedagogic reforms and regulatory tendencies pushed them two opposite directions. Institutional mechanisms reflected the lack of coherence within the official discourse. Teachers struggled to articulate a coherent response as reflected in their narratives. Their moral narrative provided a basis to frame their pedagogies; their social narratives tried to capture the changing social relations in the school; their institutional narratives attempted to respond to the shifting official positions; and their intellectual narratives were emergent articulations of their own and their student’s shortcomings. Teachers’ negotiation of identity is analysed within a triadic framework of a) social mobility b) quality and accountability and c) knowledge and work. The first part of the triad refers to the teachers’ own assumed moral responsibility towards their students, which was to enable them to transcend their social and economic disadvantages even if this meant merely reinforcing the cycle of social reproduction. High rates of failures and school dropouts among their students posed a threat to this imagination of school as a deliverer of social mobility consequently threatening teachers’ own moral-social identity. The second part of the triad refers to the definition of quality in education in terms of inputs and outputs that necessitates a regime of external goal setting and managerialism. The third part of this triad, a pivotal one, refers to teachers’ construction of their knowledge base, both conceptual and practical within a moral framework of practice. This knowledge base was systematically weakened on the one hand by the diminishing relevance of schooling as a vehicle of social mobility and the system of accountability that constrained teachers from acting in accordance with their moral commitment. The absence of such a conception of teacher knowledge from the official discourse undermines the very project of educational reform. It is hereby argued that the reciprocity of teachers’ work and identity turned on a third factor, namely teachers’ knowledge base. The shifting goalposts of educational policy with its lack of coherence, receding authority of teachers in the classroom, increased complexity of content areas and pressures of pedagogic reform, together create a knowledge gap. Currently the only way in which teachers were able to negotiate such a gap was by reifying content knowledge and turning the subjectivities of knowledge construction into absolute truths that must be valued for their intrinsic worth and moral value. This presentation of knowledge as incontestable is problematic as it has particular implications for students from disadvantaged groups. It normalises their disadvantages, enabling conditions for unequal power relations to be reproduced and maintained. Despite limited opportunities for professional formation, teachers in this study displayed the makings of social practice, albeit poorly articulated. Their ability to identify the contradictions within the official discourse and their sensitivity towards their students’ predicament of an uncertain future, was noteworthy. This study underscores the need for a reassessment of teacher knowledge needed to support pedagogies in situations exemplified in this study. Such a knowledge base is one that is intrinsically moral in character, engenders strong identities and provides the conceptual ground for teachers to potentially develop their social practice. The need for reassessment and development of teacher knowledge is even more pertinent now, when education restructuring seeks to define it in narrower terms. The conception of outcome based and cost effective curriculum will take teachers’ work further away from its potential for social practice, steer schooling away from its potential for social transformation. Absence of a systematically derived knowledge base leaves teachers with little autonomy to define their work in moral terms which is a fundamental source of their identity. To ignore the epistemic basis of teacher knowledge would be to leave teachers with no ground on which to weather the winds of market logic that buffet their work. Keywords: Teachers’ work, Identity, Teacher knowledge base, Teacher professionalism, Neoliberalism, Teacher education
Appears in Collections:Ph.D.

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01_Title Page.pdf116.54 kBAdobe PDFView/Open
02_Dedication.pdf1.62 kBAdobe PDFView/Open
03_Declaration.pdf117.02 kBAdobe PDFView/Open
04_Certificate.pdf117.47 kBAdobe PDFView/Open
05_Contents.pdf175.24 kBAdobe PDFView/Open
06_Acknowledgement.pdf121.94 kBAdobe PDFView/Open
07_Abstract.pdf125.29 kBAdobe PDFView/Open
08_Abbreviation.pdf118.35 kBAdobe PDFView/Open
09_Chapter 1.pdf273.47 kBAdobe PDFView/Open
10_Chapter 2.pdf305.41 kBAdobe PDFView/Open
11_Chapter 3.pdf654.33 kBAdobe PDFView/Open
12_Chapter 4.pdf462.89 kBAdobe PDFView/Open
13_Chapter 5.pdf255.95 kBAdobe PDFView/Open
14_Chapter 6.pdf246.45 kBAdobe PDFView/Open
15_References.pdf266.52 kBAdobe PDFView/Open
16_Appendix.pdf123.2 kBAdobe PDFView/Open

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