23 SES 03 A, Policy Reforms and Teacher Professionalism (Part 2)
Paper Session continues from 23 SES 02 A
This paper explores the media constructs of teacher (in)competency that circulate through teacher ‘quality’ discourses in the Australian print media. Teacher quality is often the focus of governments and media reportage around the world, in particular when publications such as Teachers Matter by the OECD (2005) state, not without contention, that ‘“teacher quality” is the single most important school variable influencing student achievement’ (p. 26). This and other such research spawned government policy initiatives such as Great Teachers = Great Results (DETE, 2013) in Queensland, Australia, and the white paper, The Importance of Teaching (DfE, 2010) in the UK that focus on the ‘imperative’ of improving teacher quality.
The guiding research question is: What constructions of teacher (in)competency are prevalent in the teacher quality discourses that circulate in print media? The aim of this paper is to understand and explain media practices and reportage within the context of the mediatisation of education practices (Lingard & Rawolle, 2004; Rawolle, 2010). While this study is located in Australia, media ownership and journalistic practices are transnational and therefore have relevance in the European context. Given that newspapers across the globe often report on the ‘dramatic narrative’ (Paletz & Entman, 1981) that incorporates controversy, conflict or dilemma, such government initiatives focusing on teacher quality provide fertile ground for media outlets that often link poor student outcomes with ‘poor’ teachers. These tend to ignore other influences on student outcomes such as socio-economic factors, family background, students’ skills and motivation, or government funding of education. This positions teachers as solely responsible for poor student outcomes. Additionally, reportage often overlooks the complexities of teaching, instead, reducing complex issues into sound-bites that forge simplistic understandings of teachers’ work and education issues. Consequently, such reportage positions teachers as ‘the problem’, which is a problem in itself; and seeks to find solutions to improve the quality of teachers and teaching.
This paper is framed using the theoretical concepts of discourse, mentalities, and mediatisation, which I have expressed collectively as ‘mediatised mentalities’. The print media circulates certain discourses or ‘ways of speaking’ (Foucault, 1972) about teacher competency. These discourses contribute to what Mitchell Dean (1999) identifies as ‘forms of thought’ or ‘mentalities’. These mentalities are ‘representations’ that shape the minds of populations and social agendas (Ricoeur, 2009). Additionally, these mentalities are constructed or mediated realities (Couldry, 2003) that involve ‘practices and the effects of practice’ (Rawolle, 2010). These mediatised mentalities can therefore be seen to represent somewhat uncritical discursive representations of the knowledge and perceptions in society about teachers, circulating public accounts of perceived ‘truths’ about teachers and their work.
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