01 SES 03 B, Professional Status and Professional Identity
General description on research questions, objectives and theoretical framework
Teachers’ professionalism is central in European policy of education. To attract skilful and motivated teachers and with the idea to increase teachers’ professional status the development of career pathways has been stressed by the OECD (2005) and also in Swedish policy (Gov. bill. 2012/13:136). In Sweden and other European countries academisation of education system is also an ongoing process, including demands on academisation of teachers (Borg, 2007; Ek et al, 2013). Since 2010 the Swedish School act (2010:800) prescribes all education to “rest on scientific knowledge and proven experience (5§). Parallell, a teacher career reform introduced the new position “first teacher” aimed at especially skilled teachers (Swedish Code of Statues, 2013:70). It was suggested that the first-teacher reform would support teachers’ professionalism and as such be crucial to overcome Swedish schools’ declining knowledge result in international tests (Gov. bill 2012/13:136). The policy assignment for first teachers include to develop teaching and support students learning in local school practice all through education for the 6 to 20 year olds (Swedish Code of Statues, 2013:70). Traditionally in Sweden teacher collegial formations are horizontally structured, i.e. equal standing between staff. The career reform has been controversial and considered create fragmentation at schools and challenges in collegial structures (Alvunger, 2015; Erlandsson & Karlsson, 2018).
Our study is situated within the field of critical policy studies including how new policy technologies affect teachers’ work in local practice (Ball, 2003; More and Clarke, 2016; Erlandson & Karlsson, 2018). With a focus on ongoing “becoming” of teachers and how they are shaped by policy we also relate our study to the fields of teachers’ professional identity and meaning making (Sachs, 2001).
First teacher deals with different context specific spaces and pressures. Their professional identity implies to include person as well as context and has strong implications for possible agency and outcome (Lasky, 2005; Ozga, 2000). Constructions of professional identity also to a great extent rely on what teachers themselves experience as meaningful and important in professional work (Beijard et al, 2004). Though professionalism is a concept full of tensions, on the one hand, constructed from “inside” by teachers themselves, professional engagement is dependent on autonomy and a new professionalization. Constructed from “outside”, professionalism is adapted to the marketization of education and increased control and accountability (Englund & Solbrekke, 2015; Evetts, 2009).
In this study the overall aim is to question and problematize relationships between policy and practice by highlighting first teachers’ perspectives on career reform including the given policy task to integrate scientific approaches (academisation) in teaching practice.
The research questions are as follows:
1) What ideas, strategies and constructs of professional identity becomes visible among teachers when they engage in the assignment as first teacher?
2) How do first teachers regard the academisation of teachers and schools in relation to the national career reform?
Methods/methodology This study is conducted within a recently started research and development (R&D) project with aim to support and explore meetings between policy and teaching practice. The R&D project is run in collaboration between a small town municipality and two Swedish universities. Teachers studying at master level and/or conducting school practice projects are supported and guided by university based teachers, researchers and municipality’s scientific leader in collaboration. The study was initiated in december 2017 and is empirically founded in qualitative interviews with fiftheen first teachers in primary to upper secondary school (7 to 20 year olds). The interviews are conducted during winter and spring 2018 and relate to teachers assignments and development work, and are complemented with focusgroup interviews and ethnographically influenced studies of first teacher meetings, local policy documents and field notes. The metodological aproch includes ”strong reflexivity” (Harding, 1991) for deepened analysis of data based on participants’ reflections. To capture complexity in interpretation and translation of educational policy into practice policy enactment is used as an overarching theoretical framework in the study (Ball et al, 2012) combined with governmentality and activity theory. Governmentality as Foucaults (1991) theoretical notions on discoursive impacts which control or rather modify the way in which teachers conduct and constructs their self, by themselves, is chosen to connect and clarify interdependence in steering national and local policy and practice. An activity theoretical understanding of ”shared objects” (Engeström, 2009) in actors assignments is used to get grips with the dynamics, contradictions and dilemmas that arise when policy meets practice in ongoing and changing activities. Engeströms (2009) concepts collectively or individually constructed meaning makes meaning construction at different levels visible and support understanding of different identities and subject positions that underpins first teachers’ agency. Interview data is analysed with meaning condensation in several steps (Kvale & Brinkman, 2009). Prominent meaning structures at local level are related to identified displacements and tensions in teacher professionalism (accountability versus professional responsibility) (Englund & Solbrekke, 2015). The study is positioned at the intersection of policy of requirements on academisation of school practice and career reform. We question what perceptions and values linked to scientific ground could be found and which professional identities remain possible and meaningful in a system where teacher professionalism is connected to career. Our project also deals with how “first teachers” perceives and values policy regulations regarding education on scientific basis in daily practice.
Initial results indicate that first teachers’ professional identity is related to the fact that they are chosen. With state initiative for career reform follows high expectations of teachers appointed first teachers and position is received through application in competition. Preliminary results also indicate that local policy directives have been sharpened since career reform was introduced in 2013. It can be interpreted as organizational intentions to support first teachers in difficult assignments or as increased local governance and control. Probably this can narrow the space for first teachers’ own meaning making in work, maybe with forthcoming implications for constructions of professional identity. Early empirical data indicate ambiguities in first teachers’ assignments, which also comprises informal leadership among colleagues. Although first teachers are ambivalent in loyalty to colleagues as well as headmasters (Erlandson & Karlsson, 2018), headmasters’ supports are significant (York-Barr & Duke, 2004). Interview shows a tendency for some first teachers to abandon developmental endeavors based on identity in a particular school subject, instead adapt to common nationally initiated training efforts. Others seem to construct a broad-based first teacher identity that finds itself in varied structures, searching for new ways to fulfill their assignment in co-operation. There are also first teachers that more seems to go under “the radar” of organizational control. Early result is reinforced by tendencies in another ongoing study of first teachers in esthetic school subjects on national basis. Imprecisions in first teachers’ assignments actualizes activity-theoretical analytical tools that distinguish between the individual and the collective meaning in shared objects (Engeström, 2009). First teachers’ notions of academisation in relation to national career reform needs further explorations in our study. In comparison, academisation has received little attention (Ek et al, 2013). Previous study indicates academisation for somebody can be a non-question but also a sensitive issue for first teachers.
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