01 SES 04 A, Professional Development Challenges for Casual Teaching Staff
The development of a strong professional identity has been shown to have a range of positive outcomes for teachers and students (Day & Gu, 2014; Lasky, 2005; Mockler, 2011). Research suggests that at all phases of a teaching career, professional identity plays an important role in teachers’ commitment to and engagement with the profession, along with their capacity to sustain motivation (Day & Gu, 2010). There are also positive outcomes for students, as teacher effectiveness has been linked to teachers’ professional identity (Cross & Hong, 2009; Day, 2011; Day & Gu, 2010). Professional identity is not fixed; rather, it is negotiated and constructed throughout a teaching career.
A critical time for development of professional identity is the early career phase. Early Career Casual Teachers (ECCTs) may find development of a strong professional identity challenging as they are often engaged in multiple and sometimes competing roles in order to obtain financial security. Professional identity for ECCTs is particularly complex as they are negotiating and constructing their professional identity as teacher as well as casual worker. There is a paucity of research regarding how ECCTs negotiate and construct a professional identity and this paper aims to answer the question of how ECCTs negotiate a professional identity when employed in multiple teaching communities.
Although this study was conducted in Australia, understanding how ECCTs negotiate and construct their professional identity in multiple communities of practice is important for the teaching profession in general for several reasons. Early career teacher attrition is a concern in many countries, including European countries, with early career teacher attrition reported to be as high as 50% (Vukovic, 2015). A lack of employment appears to contribute to early career teacher attrition (Dupriez, Delvaux, & Lothaire, 2015; Mayer et al., 2014). Conversely, a strong professional identity may positively contribute to teacher retention (Avalos & Aylwin, 2007; Day, 2011; Day & Gu, 2010; Pearce & Morrison, 2011).
When considering a conceptual framework in which to explore the experiences of ECCTs and in particular their development of professional identity, the framework needs to include the communities in which professional identity negotiation and construction occurs. As professional identity is negotiated and constructed through interactions with members of school and professional communities, it can be considered that professional identity construction is situated within communities of practice. As highlighted by Day and Gu (2010), professional identity is socially constructed and culturally embedded and therefore, the tacit understandings present in the multiple communities in which ECCTs may be employed require consideration. In addition, the concept of peripherality is an essential component of the conceptual framework as ECCTs are situated at the periphery of school and professional communities. Therefore, a perspective which situates identity construction within communities, such as Wenger’s (1998) Communities of Practice, with its focus on learning and the legitimacy of peripheral participation in a community of practice as part of identity negotiation and construction, is an appropriate starting point.
This research was conducted in two phases. The first phase consisted of a series of focus groups where the experiences of early career teachers working as casual or supply teachers were investigated. Topics for discussion were developed from those present in literature, such as access to employment, resources and professional learning, classroom management, developing relationships and status. Due to the paucity of research on ECCTs, this phase was an exploratory phase. In Phase 2 a longitudinal approach was used and the experiences of six ECCTs were investigated through a series of three interviews and eight reflective tasks. Phase 2 focussed on ECCTs experiences within school and professional communities as well as specifically asking question regarding their professional identity and provided a more nuanced understanding of the professional identity negotiation process. Results were analysed using a model adapted from Wenger’s (1998) theory of Community of Practice (Wenger, 1998). The model highlighted personal, school and professional communities and the interactions at the boundaries of these communities to present a holistic process of identity construction. Trajectories of belonging were incorporated to show possible identities of participation or non-participation within the communities.
Early career casual teachers’ professional identity development was impacted by experiences within the three communities; personal, school and professional. Financial concerns and personal context emerged as important components in the personal sphere. School communities provided experiences interacting with students, colleagues and parents. Experiences within school communities carried depending on whether employment was sporadic or frequent. Although entry to the broader professional communities of teachers occurred through teacher registration, further interactions with professional communities required assistance from school or personal communities. Professional identity for ECCTs appears to sit along a continuum from babysitter to teacher, depending on their opportunities to engage in ‘teacher work’ and access professional learning.
Day, C. and Q. Gu (2010). The new lives of teachers. Oxon, United Kingdom, Routledge. Dupriez, V., et al. (2015). "Teacher shortage and attrition: Why do they leave?" British Educational Research Journal 42(1): 21-39. Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning and identity. New York, NY, Cambridge University Press.
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