10 SES 03 D, Learning to Teach: Identity, Inquiry, Agency
The reality in Portugal concerning teacher initial training has been changing, especially with the implementation of the Bologna process. Also within the schools the reality has been changing and teachers have been confronted with new challenges, such as increasing roles and responsibilities; changes occurring in social agencies; greater influence of the media on the exposure of education; the fragmentation of teachers’ work; increasing contractual accountability, bureaucracy and public scrutiny, (Day, Flores, & Viana, 2007). Since the construction of the professional identity can be understood as a complex and dynamic concept, continuous, not static and constructed in the relationship with the self in a community during one’s professional path (Dotger and Smith, 2009; Chong ,2011; Cattley, 2007; Smit, Fritz, and Mabalane, 2010) and because school life is changing and it’s lived experience to, we suspect the emergence of a distinctive professional identity (Luehmann, 2007). Regarding the initial training, the practicum is assumed as a space where the (re)construction of the professional identity seems to occur through agency and structure processes. Dotger and Smith (2009) state that the construction of the professional identity takes place when the pre-service teachers are learning to become experts and are learning about rules and boundaries of the teacher’s profession (structure).
So, we can say that the construction of the professional identity is inextricably related to the concepts of agency and structure. The process of agency and structure appear within a culture and, in this case, we can understand culture as the school culture.
Regarding the definition of these concepts, we can state that defining agency appears to be much more difficult for the authors. Although, agency can be understood as ““external” and “objective” features of social order that are thought to have controlling power over culture and action.” (Rubinstein, 2001, p. 3)
According to Campbell (2009), creativity and autonomy are intrinsic characteristics of agency. Taking into account this framework, as Giddens (1984) notice, agency is related to the ability of making choices and not only with the intention of making it.
In the other hand, structure can be defined as a ‘standard’ among social relationships constituted by rules, principles and resources (Giddens, A., 2000 and Leibowitz, van Schalkwyk, Ruiters, Farmer, and Adendorff, 2012).
Concerning the school culture, we can understand structure as the internal regulation of the school and also as their rules and values that every teacher, student or even staff should fulfil but also, and because we are talking about the practicum, as the rules and guidelines defined by the cooperating teacher and by the supervisor from the university.
Nevertheless, it is really important to understand that even though agency and structure tend to resemble to opposite forces, in the reality they are indivisible and they complement each other. According to Leibowitz et al. (2012) and to Giddens (2000) structure constrains but also empower in the sense that it is only possible to have manifestations of agency because we have structure and, in the other hand, structure guides us because it sets the gage that we all should follow. Consequently, it is really important to engage not only in structure but also in agency and try to balance the two concepts critically in order to be able to manifest agency through creativity and to attribute meaning to the experiences during the practicum and to flourish as a good teacher (Leibowitz et al., 2012).
The main propose of this study is to understand how the processes of agency and structure manifest themselves during the practicum, how they are interrelated and finally their influence in the construction of the physical education teacher professional identity.
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