01 SES 04 A, Professional Development Challenges for Casual Teaching Staff
The study explores a group of Thai casual EFL lecturers’ perceptions and experience towards current professional development supports received from their workplace. The casual EFL lecturers (n=17) in this study include non-contract Thai lecturers (n=9) and contract limited native-English speaker lecturers (n=8). The study is timely since Higher Education is facing the pressure of growing number of students and the increase in its relying on casual teaching staff for the solution. Not only in Thailand, this situation is evidenced internationally (Beaton & Gilbert, 2013; Bryson, 2013; Coughlan, 2015; Curtis & Jacobe, 2006). The revelation of professional development inequality in a higher education institution which is the key issue of this paper, is different from that commonly discussed in research on inequality and social justice in education. Most of the studies on inequality amongst teachers (e.g., Chetty et al., 2011; Goldhaber, Lesley &Theobald, 2015; Rivkin et al., 2005) have predominantly focused on inequality caused by teachers’ qualifications (teaching experience, degrees, certifications) and gender, rather than their contractual-status which is a focus of this study. Casual lecturer participants’ perceptions towards the workplace supports were systematically investigated through a set of questionnaire items adapted from “sessional-staff standards framework” (Blasst, 2013). In order to explore the quality of casual teaching staff’s work condition, the researcher followed Blasst’s framework to focus on three aspects of the workplace supports (i.e., quality learning and teaching, support for sessional staff, and sustainability). These three aspects were also employed as a guide for developing interview questions and for the analysis of the data. Through questionnaire and interview, difficulties in accessing professional development activities of casual teaching staff were highly noticeable. Their constraints to accessing professional development opportunity (e.g., lack of funding, unfamiliarity with teaching practice policies, and conflicts between their teaching responsibilities and training schedules) appeared to result from both workplace policy and from their own intention.
To provide an in-depth analysis and reveal a more complete picture of casual teaching staff’s perceptions towards their workplace support, the researcher of the present study employed a mixed-methods research paradigm to conduct this study. By following this research paradigm, the researcher can use any data collection tools that properly response to the research questions and objectives. Furthermore, this paradigm helps reduce weaknesses of a single methodology and the researcher’s subjectivity derived from personal interpretations (Creswell et al., 2011). In order to explore how a group of casual teaching staff working in a public university in Bangkok perceived their professional development opportunities, questionnaires and semi-structured interviews were employed. The questionnaire consists of 17 items (5 Likert-scales) targeting the casual lecturers’ background information and their perception towards the workplace treatment regarding three aspects (1) quality learning and teaching (i.e., engagement with ongoing professional development and maintenance of a teacher role and expert role); (2) support for casual staff (i.e., opportunity to become familiar with policies that affect teaching practice and communication with institution and other staff); and (3) sustainability (i.e., reward, incentive, and opportunities to provide feedback to the workplace). In addition to that, the participants of this study were provided opportunity to further reveal their opinions towards the workplace support in more depth. Following the notion of semi-structured interviews, the researcher, as an interviewer, outlined and developed a set of interview questions in advance. The set of interview questions served as a guideline to ensure that every research question and all relevant topics were covered. In each actual interview, the orders and wordings of the questions varied from participant to participant.
The study captured constraints on professional development opportunities of the minority teaching staff (non-contract Thai lecturers and contract limited native-English speaker lecturers) in specific higher education context. They missed a lot of professional development opportunities mainly because of their invisibility from their workplace’s policy. In addition to obstructing professional development opportunities of these minority teaching staff, such invisibility in the workplace’s development policy can possibly diminish their sense of belonging to this institution. According to the participants’ perceptions and previous literature on teacher professional development (e.g. Inalhan & Finch 2004; Rioux & Mokounkolo 2013; Rioux & Pignault, 2013), this absence of a sense of belonging could further create many problems in an organisation, such as an increase in work errors, reduction in productivity, low morale and negative attitudes towards the organisation, as well as the loss of experienced and hardworking staff. Considering the negative consequences of the inequality of workplace support as revealed by the participants and warned by previous studies, it is rational to caution the study site and other higher education contexts of a similar nature to revisit their policy for each group of their teaching staff’s professional development. This study, in accordance with previous studies on non-permanent contract teaching staff such as Anderson (2007), Andrew et al. (2010), Beaton and Gilbert (2013), Beaton and Sims (2016), Bryson (2013), Cho, (2016), Coughlan (2015), and Percy et al. (2008), calls for fuller attention to the voices of the academic workforce minorities about their working condition, particularly their professional development opportunities. Since these groups of lecturers equally contribute to student learning as those lecturers who are under full-time contract, they deserve to be equally supported by the workplace.
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