01 SES 02 C, Teachers' Work
Teaching as work is a labour process that has been experiencing considerable and rapid change (Smyth et al 2000). Although these developments can unfold in quite different ways in different national contexts there are also many common features arising from a globalised education reform movement (Sahlberg, 2011). This paper focuses on the experiences and views of primary school teachers in the Republic of Ireland.
The Irish school system has eschewed many of the more radical policies associated with the global education reform movement (GERM) placing a strong emphasis on stability and consensus. This has also been reflected in an established tradition of social partnership working in relation to system governance (Teague and Donaghey, 2009). For example, teacher unions have worked closely with the state through formalised partnership arrangements. However, these features of the Irish school system were thrown into turmoil following the economic crisis in 2008. Ireland was one of the European countries at the centre of the financial meltdown and since that time its public sector has experienced deep cuts in a bid to restore fiscal credibility.
This study seeks to explore teachers’ views about their work, their sense of professionalism (and what it means to be ‘a professional’) and their attitudes towards their union as a means of asserting their professional interests. It does so at a time of intense change as the Irish school system seeks to reconcile increased expectations about performance with fewer resources and the continued application of austerity policies.
This research draws on Bascia’s 1994 study in which she argued that teachers have multiple identities, and that they expect their union to reflect diverse and multiple interests – both ‘industrial’ and professional. Such an approach highlights a tension in teacher unionism in which unions seek to reconcile their role as both trade union and professional association (Kerchner and Mitchell, 1988; Stevenson, 2012). These issues were explored further by Bangs and Frost (2012) when they highlighted the need for unions to provide a ‘voice’ for teachers in relation to both national policy and classroom concerns about professional practice and pedagogy.
This study builds on the work of Bangs and Frost, and also Sachs’ (2003) work on ‘activist professionalism’ to develop a model of teacher professionalism based on teacher agency in three interdependent areas – developing professional knowledge and professional learning, policy engagement and enactment and shaping learning and working conditions. Agency in each of these areas is operationalised as the power to assert influence, and is further differentiated between individual and collective agency, in which the latter is asserted (although not exclusively) through union organisation. There is also a recognition that agency is mobilised at multiple levels – and the framework developed explores these issues at the level of the individual classroom, at school level and at national policy level.
Bangs, J. & Frost, D. 2012, Teacher self-efficacy, voice and leadership: Towards a policy framework for educational international, Education International Research Institute, Cambridge. Bascia, N. (1994) Unions in teachers' professional lives: Social, intellectual, and practical concerns. New York: Teachers College Press. Galton, M., & MacBeath, J. (2008). Teachers under pressure. London: Sage. Kerchner, C. T., & Mitchell, D. E. (1988). The changing idea of a teachers' union. London: Falmer Press. Sachs, J. (2003) The activist teaching profession. Buckingham: Open University Press. Sahlberg, P. (2011). Finnish lessons: What can the world learn from educational change in Finland. Teachers College Press. Smyth, J., Dow, A., Hattam,R., Reid, A. and Shacklock, G. 2000. Teachers' work in a globalising economy, London: Falmer. Stevenson, H. (2012). New Unionism? Teacher Unions, Social Partnership and School Governance in England and Wales. Local Government Studies, (ahead-of-print), 1-18. Teague, P., & Donaghey, J. (2009). Why has Irish social partnership survived?. British Journal of Industrial Relations, 47(1), 55-78.
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