Working in a web of relationships: Experiences of selected second-level teachers in Ireland
Condren, Dan (2010) Working in a web of relationships: Experiences of selected second-level teachers in Ireland. PhD thesis, National University of Ireland Maynooth.
Exploring the interlinking of the personal and professional domains in the work of teaching, the study identified at an early stage that classroom relationships are central in teaching, and that this is basis for the overlap of the personal with the professional. Thus, the research came to focus on the nature of these relationships, and their implications for teachers’ lives and careers. It investigates the experiences in teaching of five second-level teachers in Ireland. It uses a constructivist, broadly narrative approach in which participants actively engaged throughout in constructing both their accounts of their careers and the findings of the study. Their accounts are presented in the thesis in the context of their personal and professional journeys. By exploring the nature of classroom interactions from the teachers’ of point of view, the study brings to light perspectives on the nature of schools, education and teaching which are rarely considered in public debate in Ireland. Two primary, linked findings emerge from the study. Firstly, that teaching takes place within a complex web of relationships, and that these form not only the context within which learning takes place, but are, in fact, an important part of the learning itself. And, secondly, the requirement of authenticity in these relationships means that the selfhood of the teacher must be centrally employed in the job of teaching; the teacher must commit personally as well as professionally to the job. Arising from these findings, the study identifies issues of negotiation, values, struggle and resilience as central to teachers’ daily experience in their work. However, it finds that such issues are rarely acknowledged either in public debate or within the profession. Furthermore, it identifies an absence among teachers of a language in which such issues can be articulated or discussed. The omission of these issues from the education debate, publicly and within the profession, provides new explanations for some of the enduring characteristics of Irish second-level schools; issues such as privatism among teachers and the difficulty of promoting sustainable cultural change in schools. It also sheds new light on why teachers are often unconvincing when describing and defending their practice in public.
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