14 SES 08 B, School-related Transitions: Voices from parents, teachers and students
The aim of this article is to study how Norwegian parents with children with special needs, reflect about the way the teachers' understood the needs of their children and how they positioned themselves as parents in the transition between all levels of schooling. We also have a focus on the tensions the parents experienced regarding their own positions in the context of their children’s needs. We use the analytical concept of positional identities and figured worlds to gain insight into how parents reflect about the trajectories in the home, kindergarten, school relations. The research question is:
How can parents’ positional identities be understood, and how do such identities develop in educational transitions from kindergarten to upper secondary school?
In this pilot study, we had three participants (mothers) to children with special needs. The data were collected using theme based recursive interviewing with a life history orientation over one year and analysed using biographical case history narratives. We focused on one of the mothers (aged 45) who represented a parent positional identity which she described changed negatively from kindergarten “I am concerned about my son” to: “I felt helpless” in school. Her case illustrates how her ‘parent position’ in transitions is shaped by a complex web of experienced positionings from teachers in which ‘hinder’ her in positioning her as resourceful mother. The article concludes that the staff should focus on having the parents to describe their children, their strong sides and the challenges to improve the home-school cooperation.
A study that was carried out in Budapest, Hungary, is relevant. The study found that for parents of children with disabilities or children who struggle with learning (Rice, 2017), the burden is on the family to advocate for their child. The parents did not feel that the teachers wanted to discuss any issues that their child might have. Communication about learning was viewed as one-sided or non-existent (Rice, 2017).
According to (Gee, 2000) identity is an analytic lens for research in education. Gee claims that a person might be recognized as being a certain kind of person, e.g. kindergarten teacher through countless possibilities. The "kind of person" one is recognized as "being," at a given time and place, can change from moment to moment in the interaction and from context to context. Being recognized as a certain "kind of person," in a given context, is what Gee mean here by "identity." hence, all people have multiple identities connected to their "internal states" and to their performances in society (Gee, 2000).
We link the concept of ‘educational parent identity’ (Gee, 2000) to the ethnographic concepts of ‘positional identities’ and ‘figured worlds’ (Holland, Lachicotte Jr., Skinner, & Cain, 1998). In this perspective, positional identities are understood as dynamic entities that are part of social interactions between people within different contexts. Therefore, the formation of the individuals and their understanding of themselves and their position as e.g. parents can take place through social interaction. Indeed, individuals inhabit many incoherent self-understandings and changeable identities, positional or figured, embedded in social contexts called ‘figured worlds’. These worlds are ‘socially produced, culturally constituted activities’ (Holland et al., 1998: 40–41) where people come to produce (perform) new self-understandings (identities) both conceptually (cognitively) and materially (procedurally). Positioning refers to the positions ‘offered’ to people in figured worlds. Positioning is an analytically separable counterpart to figuration; when positioned, people engage less in self-making, instead focusing on accepting, rejecting or negotiating the provided identities (Urrieta Jr., 2007a:111).
This article is based on recursive interviewing (four interviews) over one year with a life history orientation of three mothers to children with special needs (this is a pilot study). The mothers have children who have been diagnosed with a disorder (dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or learning difficulties) by the educational psychology service during kindergarten, primary or lower secondary school. The children are about twenty years old today. They have finished School, two of them are employed, one is unemployed. Two of the children receive psychological treatment. The mothers have MA level education. All parents in this survey divorced before their children started in lower secondary school. The parents are all involved in their children’s education. The data was analysed by creating theme-based biographical case narratives forming rich datasets. The focus was on the parent (mother) to a child with special needs, since the parent can be defined as being in a position where she/he might experience challenges stemming from educational trajectories across family life, kindergarten and school. Yet, the dominant educational research focus is not on the parents themselves and the importance of listening to their voices, but rather on classroom activities and quantitative measures of performance.
The mother changes from being worried about her child, feeling helpless, to feeling alone about the responsibility for the well-being and learning process of her son. In the way she changes how she positions herself as her son progresses in school we can see how her identity changes. The home-school cooperation was experienced as burdensome, she felt school became an opponent. ”I remember I was attending a lot of school meetings about my son, thinking that they were not doing their best for my son or myself. I got the impression that we were counterparts, not partners”. She was often worried and felt sorry on her son’s behalf, and when she talked with the school about this, she felt stigmatized; “I felt stigmatized as mother”. She felt lonely and inferior because her child was not A4 student and did not master school. “I did not fit in”. She had to compensate because she experienced that her son was not seen or acknowledged by the teachers. “I always had to be there for Georg”
Gee, J. P. (2000). Identity as an analytic lens for research in education. Review of research in education, 25, 99-125. Holland, D., Lachicotte Jr., W., Skinner, D., & Cain, C. (1998). Identity and Agency in Cultural Worlds. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Rice, N. (2017): Parent perspectives on inclusive education in Budapest, European Journal of Special Needs Education, DOI: 10.1080/08856257.2017.1410325 Urrieta Jr., L. (2007a). Figured Worlds and Education: An Introduction to the Special Issue. The Urban Review, 39(2), 107-116. doi:10.1007/s11256-007-0051-0
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