19 SES 05 A, Paper Session
Our empirical research project focuses on how classroom authority is produced and maintained in German schools. This research interest implies that teachers’ authority is something that is fragile, rather than guaranteed (e.g. by the status of a teacher): Authority is a hierarchical (teacher-student) relationship that is produced by the common agreement which legitimizes teachers to lead students who agree to follow (Metz 1978, 27; Pace & Hemmings 2007, 6). Authority thus can be observed as a performed authorization (see Jergus et al. 2012) in classroom practices that takes place when teachers lead students (e.g. by asking students to be quiet) and the students legitimize this by following their teachers (e.g. by quitting to talk). Theoretically, this perspective builds on practice theory according to Schatzki (1996, 2001) to analyse the actual teaching practices in the classroom.
But while a research perspective that focuses on the situated teaching practices primarily analyses how authorization is performed, we will take a slightly different perspective by asking, what the underlying legitimations of teachers’ practices are, that classroom authority relies on. In other words: What are the legitimizing sources of authority for those teaching practices that the students follow? By focusing on this aspect of authority our contribution pays less attention to situated practices but rather to pedagogical discourses that first and foremost shape what counts as legitimate teaching practices and that the situated authorizations rely on in order to be acknowledged as legitimate. Against this background the research project is also based on poststructuralist theories, drawing mostly from Butler (1997), to analyse practices as interwoven with pedagogical discourses on authority and to reconstruct practices as ongoing performative processes of subjectivation (i.e. practices that produce teachers as an authority; Reh & Ricken 2012).
One aspect in teaching that teachers consistently perceive as their most serious challenge is students’ discipline (Evertson & Weinstein 2006, 3). Here the authorization of teachers’ practices seems to be most fragile. Thus it is no surprise that there are plenty of guidebooks on discipline programs that offer (school wide) solutions to discipline problems. One program that continues to enjoy popularity in German schools and that furthermore could be observed a lot in our participant observations is the so called ‘Trainingsraum’ (a timeout program; see Bründel & Simon 2013). It is based on the "Responsible Thinking Process" by Edward E. Ford (1997) that aims to teach students to behave responsibly. The two main components of the German program are: 1. A timeout room in which students are sent in case of misbehaviour in order to reflect on it. 2. A strictly defined dialogue that precedes the timeout and that communicatively produces misbehaviour as an individual student's fault, that only they have to take responsibility for. It is thus quite astonishing that in our participant observations, conducted in German secondary schools, we could see that this program functions perfectly in terms of authorization: i.e. that all students almost all the time followed the above described procedure. Accordingly, the students authorize the teachers to discipline them as described. During all the months of observation there has not been a single instance where this discipline practice has been questioned in terms of its underlying legitimization. In order to understand what discursively legitimizes this and other discipline programs and thus consolidates the teachers’ authority in these practices, we analyse different guidebooks on school discipline.
Our results are based on a discourse ethnography (Langer & Richter 2015; Ott et al. 2012). This methodological approach combines an ethnographic approach, mainly focusing on practices (Schatzki 1996), with an analysis of these practices as discursive practices (Fegter et al. 2015), that relate to orders of knowledge and have to be taken into account in order to fully grasp how classroom authority can be understood in the situated practices. We conducted participant observations in four classes at three different secondary schools in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. Each class has been observed for 4 to 6 months with 1-2 observation days per week. During the fieldwork, the teachers’ regulations of students’ behaviour in the classroom have been the focus of the observations. Furthermore, artefacts were collected (see Merl 2019, 2021). The research process and the analysis of this data is based on the Grounded Theory Methodology (Clarke 2005). Our understanding of the situated teaching practices as discursive practices furthermore leads us to also analyse pedagogical guidebooks, that the practices rely on and inherently relate to. We understand this pedagogical guidebooks discursively as explications of orders of knowledge that produce meaning (Fegter et al. 2015) and – regarding our research interests – produce the legitimization which authorizes pedagogical practices: Following the thoughts from Thompson (2013) pedagogical guidebooks are a type of text that stages the pedagogical ability to act, because it claims to have a practical solution. At the same time, by giving practical pedagogical advice, it also needs to legitimise its advice; which usually happens in the preface. By analysing how the advised teaching practices are legitimised, we can analyse sources of authority that teachers and students implicitly and practically acknowledge by using those discipline programs – even though they don’t explicitly refer to the guidebooks legitimations in the classroom.
The central reference point of the discipline program ‘Trainingsraum’ is the students’ personal responsibility: “In our schools, personal responsibility must be experienced again” Bründel & Simon (2013, 13) argue in the preface of the pedagogical guidebook. It is due to students acting irresponsibly, that discipline problems arise and it is therefore necessary to hold students responsible “again” in order to deal with misbehaviour. The whole program can thus be understood as a guide for teachers to establish personal responsibility by holding students responsible. Several aspects are used in the preface to argue for – and thereby produce – the necessity and even duty to hold students responsible: 1) It refers to the aim of values education stated in the school law, 2) to the existing (sig!) values of our society and 3) to the needs of companies regarding their future employees. All three aspects refer to other authorities: law, values and economy. Hereby the programs’ reference point of personal responsibility and the deduced pedagogical advice is authorised by these authorities. So altogether these aspects are a discursive strategy that draws pedagogical authorization from other (non-pedagogical) sources of authority. The everyday use of this program not only implies that the teachers are performatively authorised by their students to discipline them in the described way, it also implies the following: 1. That both, students and teachers, acknowledge and thus (re-)produce the underlying concept of students as subjects who ‘are’ individually responsible. 2. That both acknowledge the analysed authorities as sources of pedagogical authority. In our presentation we will also contrast these findings with other analysed discipline programs, such as “the new authority” (Omer 2011) to show similarities and differences in sources of authority.
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