01 SES 01 C, Professional Identity, Agency and Self Image
The aim of this paper is to gain more insight into how teachers in upper secondary school perceive the notion of professional space, and more specifically, to explore through interviews how professional space can be seen as being mediated (Wertsch, 2007) by a conglomerate of different conditions that are assigned significance and value by the teachers. The paper uses Norwegian Language 1 (L1) teachers as a case for exploring how teachers identify and interpret conditions that enable or prevent them from working in accordance with their professional aims and purposes. The research questions for the paper are the following:
What conditions are perceived by L1 teachers as shaping their professional space?
What conditions are interpreted as resources or constraints by the teachers?
In the European context, there is a lack of research on the phenomenon of perceived professional space among teachers (Oolbekkink-Marchand, Hadar, Smith, Helleve, & Ulvik, 2017). Furthermore, European research could benefit from more educational research employing a “bottom-up” perspective in positioning and exploring teachers as interpreting actors (Hermansen, Lorentzen, Mausethagen, & Zlatanovic, 2018). This paper builds on research based on the concept of perceived professional space and its connections to teacher agency (Oolbekkink-Marchand et al., 2017). While the study by Oolbekkink-Marchand et al. (2017) was based on a sample from six different countries, this study investigates one national context and can thereby go more into depth in the specific context teachers are working in. Furthermore, this study also includes the subject matter, in this case the L1 subject as a dimension connected to the teachers perceived professional space. While teaching and learning are often discussed in general terms (the who and the how), it is important to acknowledge that there is also a content (the what) in teaching (Klette, 2007).
Using a sociocultural perspective on agency as individuals-operating-with-mediational-means (Wertsch, Tulviste, & Hagstrom, 1993), the paper explores the perceived professional space as a figured world mediating different conditions and possibilities for action (Holland, Lachicotte jr., Skinner, & Cain, 1998). Understood as a figured world, the perceived professional space is “populated” by significant people, objects, phenomena, and systems that, by functioning as mediational means, shape the space and make certain acts seem possible, desirable, difficult, or impossible.
The paper is grounded in a qualitative research design based on research interviews (Brinkmann & Kvale, 2015) and both thematic and interpretative analysis (Hatch, 2002). The context for this study is Norwegian upper secondary schools, which encompasses both academic and vocational study programs. The Norwegian school system aims to offer a general education for all students, which implies many common core subjects independent of programme. Teachers who teach a core subject, like the L1 teachers in our sample, may teach in both programmes. The participating teachers were selected with an awareness of the benefits deriving from variation in gender, age, work experience, and central or rural location. In addition, the type of school, academic, vocational, or combined, that the teachers taught at was also taken into consideration. The ten L1 teachers were interviewed using individual semi-structured interviews. The interviews were all conducted by the first author using an interview guide developed in collaboration with the two other authors of this paper. The interviews were conducted in the spring of 2017. The interviews were transcribed verbatim and the transcripts have been read by all three authors. The analysis process has been divided into two parts, where the first part centered on a thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006; Hatch, 2002) focusing on themes that were common for the teachers across the different interviews. During this part, the authors read all the interview transcripts individually while noting common themes. The authors then met to discuss the transcripts and the themes that had been identified. Quotes from the different interviews were then selected as examples of the common themes. The second part of the analysis, centered on interpretation of the themes and quotes in order to further explore the significance of the teachers’ perceptions of their professional space and their interpretation of the resources and constraints embedded in the different mediational means.
Based on the interview analysis, our findings indicate that the L1 teachers perceive their professional space as being shaped by: Organizational conditions such as exams, school leadership, the curriculum, “external” demands, and teaching material Relational conditions created by colleagues and students Cultural conditions stemming from interpretations of personal experience, the L1 subject, and what is perceived to be “the spirit of our time”, the Zeitgeist. This highlights the complex composition of a teacher’s professional space, being shaped by both organizational conditions in the school, interpretations of experience, and broader cultural conditions such as changes in the student body, and impressions of ‘how things just have to be nowadays’. Furthermore, this study contributes to the understanding of teacher agency by discussing how teachers interpret and use different conditions as mediational resources in order to reach their aims and purposes. One example from our findings is how two teachers interpret the curriculum. The first teacher interprets the curriculum as “spacious”, and is thereby able to make it into a resource for her own aims. She takes a tailoring approach to the curriculum, adapting it to her own purposes, and thus expands her perceived professional space. In contrast, another teacher interprets the curriculum as a constraint because of the amount of learning outcomes and different topics included. This constraints the teacher from creating in-depth work for the students, and thereby forcing what we can call a surface approach into the teacher’s teaching. The two approaches outlined here are the results of how the curriculum act as a shaping condition for the teachers’ perceived professional space, but at the same time is interpreted differently by the teachers. The different interpretation influence how the L1 teachers achieve agency in the figured world of professional space.
Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77-101. doi:10.1191/1478088706qp063oa Brinkmann, S., & Kvale, S. (2015). InterViews : learning the craft of qualitative research interviewing (3rd ed. ed.). Thousand Oaks, Calif: Sage. Hatch, J. A. (2002). Doing Qualitative Research in Education Settings. Albany: State University of New York Press. Hermansen, H., Lorentzen, M., Mausethagen, S., & Zlatanovic, T. (2018). Hva kjennetegner forskning på lærerrollen under Kunnskapsløftet? En forskningskartlegging av studier av norske lærere, lærerstudenter og lærerutdannere. Acta Didactica Norge, 12(1). doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.5617/adno.4351 Holland, D. C., Lachicotte jr., W., Skinner, D., & Cain, C. (1998). Identity and agency in cultural worlds. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press. Klette, K. (2007). Trends in Research on Teaching and Learning in Schools: Didactics Meets Classroom Studies. In (pp. 147-160). Oxford. Oolbekkink-Marchand, H. W., Hadar, L. L., Smith, K., Helleve, I., & Ulvik, M. (2017). Teachers' perceived professional space and their agency. Teaching and Teacher Education, 62, 37-46. doi:10.1016/j.tate.2016.11.005 Wertsch, J. V. (2007). Mediation. In H. Daniels, M. Cole, & J. Wertsch (Eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Vygotsky (pp. 178-192). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Wertsch, J. V., Tulviste, P., & Hagstrom, F. (1993). A Sociocultural Approach to Agency. In E. A. Forman, N. Minick, & C. A. Stone (Eds.), Contexts for Learning. Sociocultural Dynamics in Children's Development. . New York Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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