10 SES 08 D, Partnership-Based Mentoring and Minority Teacher-training
In teaching, professional agency is viewed as the capacity to make evaluations based on what matters to you as a professional, interpret complex problems and bring to bear the ‘best resources’ available to understand and handle them (Edwards, 2015). The idea of teacher agency is a powerful but often unstated assumption underlying teacher education. Programmes reflect either i) a ‘blank subjectivity’ – where there is no recognition of the complicated interaction between inner psychic life and outer societal discourses; or, ii) an ‘uncomplicated subjectivity’ – reinforcing a humanist vision of the self as autonomous and encountering language as a free agent (Parker 1997, p. 2). In both instances, teachers not only remain unaware of historical a priori conditions, which always limit one’s thought and action, they never learn to appreciate the intrinsic role of uncertainty and desire in living and teaching. Without such understandings, we argue, the teacher cannot cultivate the capacity to confront seductive and problematic ideological fantasies and dominant discourses.
Recently, for example, we have witnessed many political efforts to recast teachers’ agency in terms of performativity (Ball, 2008) – holding teachers accountable for a prescribed set of outcomes and results (Hopmann, 2008) – thereby reducing teachers’ ‘freedom’ to think and make judgements about what is educationally desirable (Rüsselbæk Hansen, Phelan, and Qvortrup, 2015; Courtney and Gunther, 2015). Teachers still appear free to make decisions as long as they align with dominant policy discourses (Masschelein and Simons, 2013). The upshot is that the teaching subject is always both free and unfree at the same time. In this sense, limits represent a site of tension – a conceptual and practical threshold – that cannot be avoided (Clarke and Phelan, 2017). Foucault (1997) captures something of this sense when he endorses a limit attitude, “an ethos, a philosophical life in which a critique of what we are is at one and the same time the historical analysis of the limits imposed upon us and an experiment with the possibility of going beyond them” (p. 319). Paradoxically, our sense of agency is premised on our appreciation of our subjective limits.
The inescapability of limits, and the enduring paradoxical challenge they pose, offer an important antidote to the teaching subject of new liberal democracies wherein, “man believes himself capable of everything" (Agamben, 2011, p. 44) and when the precariousness of life is overshadowed by dogmatism and orthodoxy. The responsibility of teacher educators is critical: it must engage what Derrida (2007) terms “an unrelenting war against the doxa” (p. 28) – open up subtlety, aporia and paradox and call teachers back to a recognition of precariousness. In his final interview, Derrida (2007) asks: What does learning to live ‘finally’ mean? The ambiguity of the phrase evokes inquiry into a difficult question: “is living something that can be learned? or taught?” (p. 24). Can one learn, he asks, “through discipline or apprenticeship, through experience or experimentation to accept or, better, to affirm life,” in its uncertainty? (p. 24).
Echoing Derrida, the question that preoccupies us in this paper is: What might learning to teach ‘finally’ mean? What role might limits play in teacher education? The concern for legacy and death surely resonates with parents and teachers whose fervent hope it is that their children undertake life while affirming the truth of “a death that is coming, always already there yet impossible to anticipate” (Birnbaum, 2007, p. 13). So too the teacher must learn to appreciate the frailty of one’s being-in-the-world as historical, existential, and circumstantial; condemned to make meaning in a meaningless world but also recognizing the significant role played by contingency in a teacher’s agency.
Agamben, G. (2011). Nudities. (Trans. D. Kishik, & S. Pedatella). Stanford: Stanford University Press. Ball, S. J. (2008). The Education Debate. University of Bristol: The Policy Press. Birnbaum (2007). Introduction: Bearing Loss: Derrida as a Child. In Derrida, J.D. (2007) Learning to Live Finally: The Last Interview. (Trans. Pascale-Anne Brault & Michael Naas) Hoboken, NJ: Melville House Publishing. Butler, J. (2004). Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence. London: Verso. Clarke, M. and Phelan, A. M. (2015). Negativity, cruel optimism and the virtue of impotentiality in education. Paper presented at the Oxford Philosophy of Education Society meeting, March. Clarke, M. and Phelan, A. M. (2017). Teacher Education and the Political: The Power of Negative Thinking. London: Routledge. Courtney, S. J., and H. M. Gunter (2015). Get off my bus! School leaders, vision work and the elimination of teachers. International Journal of Leadership in Education 18(4): 395-417. Derrida, J.D. (2007). Learning to Live Finally: The Last Interview. (Trans. Pascale-Anne Brault & Michael Naas). Hoboken, NJ: Melville House Publishing. Edwards, A. (2015). Recognising and realising teachers’ professional agency. Teachers and Teaching, 21(6): 779 – 784. Foucault, M. (1997). The ethics of the concern for self as a practice of freedom. In P. Rabinow (Ed.), Ethics, subjectivity and truth: Essential works of Foucault 1954-1984 (Vol. 1). New York: The New Press. Greene, M. (2004). Curriculum and consciousness. In Flinders, D. & Thornton, S. (eds.) The Curriculum Studies Reader. New York: RoutledgeFalmer. pp. 135-148 Hopmann, S.T. (2008). No child, no school, no state left behind: schooling in the age of accountability. Journal of Curriculum Studies. Vol. 40 (4): 417-456. Masschelein, J. & Simons, M. (2013). In defence of the school: A public issue. Leuven: E-ducation, Culture & Society Publishers. Parker, I. (1997). Discourse Analysis and Psycho-Analysis. British Journal of Social Psychology: 479-495. Rüsselbæk Hansen, D.; Phelan, A. M. & Qvortrup, A. (2015). Teacher Education in Canada and Denmark in an Era of Neutrality. Transnational Curriculum Inquiry: 40-55. Zizek, S. (2008a). The plague of fantasies. New York: Verso. Zizek, S. (2008b). The sublime object of ideology. New York: Verso
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