Summary

In Kirsten Krogh-Jespersen

"Teacherprofessionalism, illusion and vision", in Danish

 

 

 

The thesis "Teacherprofessionalism, illusion and vision!" communicates examinations and discussions of two approaches to an understanding of teacherprofessionalism.

One is an examination and discussion of a professionalisation of the teachersí work understood as a meaningful development of teachersí work in late modernity. This agenda relates to an internal discourse, which engage teachers in the schools and in teacher education. The perspective is the question of how teachers can carry through teaching as intentional and contextual judgements based on theoretical well-founded insight and to which degree they can (re?)capture responsibility and influence on the development of the school.

The other is an examination and discussion of tendencies in the actual changes in the framing and conditioning of teachersí work. This agenda relates to the external pressure that confronts teachersí work and to an identification of the contradictions in the political discourse on teachersí work as a profession on the one hand and the obvious tendencies to a de facto deprofessionalisation on the other hand. This tendency is not only the case for teachersí work. It just seems double ironical in the teaching and similar occupations, as the discourse about the professionalisation of these occupations emerge at the same time as you can identify a general tendencies of deprofessionalising occupations in the public sector.

The examination and discussion of teachersí work related to the two approaches is carried through theoretically and empirically. The theoretical examination contains approaches that all together offers different historical, different research areas and different theoretical positions attempt to pin down the main points in teachersí work. The mutual pivotal point for these examinations is the effort to expose the complexity of teachersí work, to catch in sight its exclusive character. With point of departure in the general research on professions an attempt is made to expose the contradictions in the tendencies of the late modern discourse on professionalisation and implications for teachersí work is identified.

The empirical research is an interview enquiry of skilled teachersí ways of describing and arguing about their work. The informants have not been asked about their understanding of a professionalisation of teaching and other tasks in teachersí work. In the analysing and interpretation of the interview texts a professionalisation perspective is put forward. I catch sight of qualities in the work of the teachers. This on the one hand is point of departure for a definition of teachersí work as professional but also of forms of understanding and on experiences of frames and conditions, which do not only not support but even directly oppose the attempts to professionalise the work of teachers.

The examinations and discussions

A "state of the art" shows a historical development in the understanding of teachersí work and identifies its ambivalent stretches between wage-earning and personal involvement. Teachersí work cannot be understood out of the context of society. Society on the one hand sets the goals and the frames for how it is supposed to be carried through and the way it is performed and its results influence on the other hand society. The currently agenda for the educational system, influenced by globalisation and market-orientation, threats the agenda of a democratic "bildung".

This is most obvious in the School Effectiveness-paradigm and the educational policy that follows in Great Britain and expanding internationally.

The instrumentalisation of teaching and other teachersí tasks that the School Effectivenessparadigm is operating on is in this thesis identified as a fundamentally wrong understanding of teaching. The conditions to restrain such tendencies are related to a professionalisation of teachersí work. At the same time the paradigm is a serious threat to the developing the teachersí work in direction of professional performance in the sense Ė based on substantiated judgements and qualified by the teachersí didactic competencies.

To be able to identify current problems and challenges in society and to view conditions for changing processes, the thesis contains analyses of current society on the grounds of critical theory and system theory. These two approaches are basically different in their point of view and their scientific fundament. But the contribute conformably in a thought-provoking manner to identify dangerous tendencies in the development of society. Their analyses point, in different but not fundamentally incompatible saying, on challenges for respectively systems generally and school specifically. Critical theory with Oskar Negt as the main reference advertise for a school, where the aim or the ideal for the "bildung" is the wilful human being, who is oriented towards autonomous judgement and towards specific lifestyles, that involves rebellious elements. System theory with Niklas Luhamnn as main reference discusses with the difference system/ outside world as the main difference the necessity that the system increases its irritability as it increases its complexity. The system must learn and it must discipline it self on the background of better self-observation. The system school must observe how it through its output contribute to the students learning and "bildung".

Both classical bildungstheory, critical socialisationstheory and systemtheory analyses identify and discuss upbringing and teaching as a paradoxical affair. In the thesis different theorists are brought forward in the discussion of the paradox and its implications for teachersí work. The already mentioned theorists are central references in each their theory-complex. Others, representing historically and current important pedagogical philosophers are presented with as references to the bildungstheoretical discussion. The theoretical examination leads to an understanding of the relation between teaching and learning. There is an argument on the issue, that teachersí work because of its paradoxical character must rest on a specific theoretical knowledge-base to increase the probability to reach the formulated intention that the school contribute to the learning, education and "bildung" of the students. There is also an argument on the issue that the presented theories and discussions are to be regarded as exemplar to the broadness and the deepness a knowledge-base that can qualify the teachers judgement must contain. The paradoxes in upbringing and teaching can as shown be identified through theoretical analyses. They are also experienced concretely among other things as the insufficiency of rules and routines, as the complexity of the situations and as the unforseenability of the results.

With an examination of the school as an institution and schools as organisations the thesis comes closer to the concrete reality that the teachersí work takes place in. The institutionalisation of upbringing and teaching sets an agenda, which is only partly formulated by the employees. Intentions, goals and a number of factors doing with conditions for teaching are centrally decided. In the thesis there are though an argumentation for the point of view that the teachers has profound influence on what is actually going on and what comes out of it. Schools as organisations are assign a number of decision-areas and - competences, and they are ordered a number of administrative tasks. This both limits and opens at the same time but leaves a space for argumentation and decision making, for displaying judgement, legitimated among other things by scientific based knowledge.

What one can know of and how one can come to know about the character of and the limits for this free scope, about the actual doings in the classroom and about the consequences of them is in the thesis discussed by involving a number of experiences from my former research projects. Action research projects, classroom- or field studies projects and evaluation research projects are three categories that all together gives admission to a number of methodological questions in qualitative educational research. The experiences from these projects make a foundation for both the theoretical studies and the empirical analyses in this project, and for the discussion of methodological issues and problems in qualitative research in general end specifically in this project. The empirical part of the project is an interview inquiry of skilled teachers account or narratives on their teaching and other teachersí tasks, their identification of what they regard as important challenges and their argumentation for their visions and their struggle to improve their teaching.

The analyses and the interpretations on the empirical material results in documenting that when skilled teachers account on their teaching and their reflections they show an understanding of some basic conditions to carry through teaching with valid normality, as Erling Lars Dale puts it. The intuitively understands the secrets of teaching, the pedagogical paradox. It shows in the value they put into the student-teacher relation and in their accounts on a teaching that allows the students to work with the content. Some of the informants advertise a deeper theoretical insight and more precise conceptualisation and professional language in order to qualify both the practical tasks of the challenges in teaching and communication on teachersí work in general.

But the professionalisation of the teachersí work can not be understood as an internal project for which the teachers are in power to set the agenda. In order to understand tendencies in the current changes in frames and conditions for teachersí work the external press, that confronts the work, is examined and the contradictions in respectively the political discourse on teaching as a profession and the tendencies to a deprofessionalisation is discussed. This discourse in spite of its contradictions has made actual a reconstruction of the competencies that a qualified practice requires. This shows in a number of research projects on teachers and teachersí work and it shows in the internal preoccupation on the discourse of professionalisation. I have argumentet that the important issue is not that of ascribing professional status to the teaching occupation but that the teachers regain the self-confidence and the courage to speak with authority about the specific challenges in teaching.

The teachersí trade union is striving to contribute to the professionalisation of the teachersí work which among other things show in formulating an ethical code for the profession. Also the conceptualising of the responsible employee communicate the tendency in late modernity to expect involved and responsible staff members. The thesis leads the argumentation that the teachers have always had this expectation to themselves and each other. This is not the same as not being aware that the sharpened expectations could be risky also for the teachers.

The insight in problems concerning the theory-practice relation is a condition for the professionalisation of the work of the teachers. The empirical material in this project communicates expressions of the teachersí knowledge on this complex relationship, which makes up a ongoing challenge for teacher education, both in-service and pre-service. A number of the infomants point directly on the need to develop a precise professional language in order to professionalise the communication among staff and with the outer world. The relevans in such an ambition is supported by the theoretical analyses on conditions for professionally executing of the work. Professional language and theoretical insight is in this way a condition for developing the reflectivity that goes with a definition of teaching as a professional task. Reflectivity has its take-off in an integration and communication of practical and theoretical insight.

The last argumentation for not to give up on the professionalisation project has to do with the discussion of the systems self- and external references. It is necessary for educational systems (the school) and for the teachers to be able to analyse the functions, the outputs and the reflections of the system and take these into consideration in relation to the system-intern codes learning/not learning. If the systems second order observations opens for contradictions, asymmetry and paradoxes they can as mentioned represent the set-off and expression of professionalising learning processes.

Conclusions

The first half of the projectsí problem rises the question: Which forms of understanding can make it meaningful to try to stand by a conceptualisation about teacher professionalism and to strive towards a professionalisation of teachersí work?

In the conclusion of the thesis three statements answer this question. The first statement is related to the knowledge base of the teachersí work. Here is pointed to the fact that both the empirical analyses and the theoretical definition of professional work points towards the necessity of an adequate scientific funded knowledge-base that makes it possible for the professional to practice specific judgements. The point is that the professional due to his knowledge and in relation to the matter can act independently. He can also due to these insights, among these a knowledge about how the insights have emerged, be self-renewing in his professional work. A professionalisation of teachersí work will make teachers robust against both deprofessionalising tendencies and against changing didactic "fashions".

The second statement takes off in the empirical material of the project. The skilled teachers that i have interviewed seem to base their teaching and other teachersí tasks on an insight about the pedagogical paradox. This insight is not explicitly expressed but though hinted to in some of the informantsí way of accounting and arguing. Some of the teachers advertise for a more explicit way of talking about teaching as one way to qualify it. The point is the need for theoretical studies, for developing a professional language and for a goal-oriented or professional communication among the staff. The youngest of my informants and those who have their education closest in mind seem to have easier access to a theoretical base in their work Ė a base which they have gained in their education.

The third statement concerns the teachersí ambivalent stretch between their personal involvement with children, parents and colleagues and the demands and constitutions of being a wage earner. The modernising tendencies and the intensivating of teachersí work press the teachers and challenge the possibilities of balancing the ambivalent. You can observe a tendency to young teachers to get out of the ambivalent situation by finding others jobs than teaching. It is my assumption, which I to some degree find confirmed in my empirical material that a professionalisation in the form of an increased scientific knowledgebase, which can give insight in the ambivalent situation, in the conditions of the wage work and in the pressure of the modernisation, would increase both an offensive strategy and relieve the pressure on the work.

The second question in the projectsí problem is: How can a critical analyse of the conceptualisation of profession and the background for it emerging challenge the understanding of teachersí work as being a profession?

Two statements answer this question. In the Danish and Scandinavian research on professions teachers work has mainly been identified as semi-professional. The reasons for this definition ha to do with a non-scientific education, with the limited professional control over the work and over the teachers and with the lack of certification and professional sanctions.

Lately more and more detailed regulations have framed the teachers work and decreased the teachersí freedom to make professional decisions. The latest is being a national curriculum. Government of the school has gone from the teachers to a board with a majority of parents. This has decreased the professional decision making arenas. The foundation of an external institution with the task to evaluate schools and teachers is problematising the abilities among the professionals to measure the quality of their work. The international studies on the studentís standards in external decided areas and criteria set the agenda for what is of value and the work should be carried out in the schools. All these initiatives threaten the project of professionalising teachersí work Ė even before it has really started.

 

Recommendations

With this thesis a research based contribution has been made both to problematice the understanding of teaching as a profession and to argue for the understanding that the specific character of teachersí work should give reasons for professionalising the work and its performers.It is my hope that the results will be part of future definitions of teachers work and future research in the field.

With the intention of a continuous professionalisation I will recommend that teacher education in the future is described by a content and a structure that values and attach importance to a scientific knowledge base as the bases for professional teachersí work. The thesis communicates an argued offer on what could be an adequate content.

I will recommend that schools as organisations and teacher staffs set aside time to carry out professional communication on students, on teaching, on the different relationships that the work demands, on the teachers own learning and on strategies for school improvement as a whole. A qualification of the theoretical insights and professional language will strengthen the possibilities for such a professional communication. And the result will be a general qualification of the teachers themselves and a qualification of the teaching and the social being together the students meet in the schools.

I recommend the teachers trade union that they intensify their support to a theoretic knowledge-base as a foundation of teachers work, and that they contribute to establish the conditions for a professional communikation and qualification can take place. This demands both an internal strive to help criteria for professional work to be acknowledged and an offensive politic i relation to create conditions for teachersí work that can support the professiopnalisation.

Finally I will recommend that future research in the professions outside research in professions in general and their intern and extern initiated changes formulate research projects that go deep into the character, problems, needs and possibilities for development in specific work areas.