Contesting the territory: how Mother Tongue English teachers in England and Australia are remaining resilient and creative in constraining times.
Teacher identity, L1 teaching, teacher autonomy, national policy.
Around the world teachers have been experiencing strong external pressures on their work, reducing their autonomy and constraining their creativity [Goodwyn, 2013, 2016], especially true of a subject area like L! English where teachers have deep convictions. The identity of English teachers in Australia and England has marked similarities, characterised by a passionate attachment to teaching literature [Goodwyn et al, 2015], Personal Growth ideology, strongly inflected by a view of students as agents in meaning making [ Goodwyn, 2004, 2005]. Another marked commonality for English in both Australia and England has been the fact that the subject suffers from increasing surveillance and regulation, leading to much teacher dissatisfaction and to many leaving the profession.
The study explores the ways English and literacy educators seek to find a balance between external expectations, contemporary pressures, professional aspirations, and personal values in times of change. The research uses a grounded theory approach, building up an understanding of teachers’ own subject theories from the emerging data. 30 in-depth interviews were carried out in each country to provide a qualitative data set, capturing the views of teachers from a range of years of experience and with differing levels of responsibility. The interviews focused on 6 key areas: identity concepts of self /subject English; professional and personal priorities; pedagogies and educational strategies; and perceptions of change.
The data was analysed thematically, searching for common areas of teacher concern and value. Certain significant themes emerged. The strongest of all was a tension between the need to ensure student success in the testing regimes operating in both countries whilst maintaining a classroom dynamic that centred on individual student well being and engagement.
L1 teachers are feeling besieged and undermined but also resilient and robust. Most teachers still enjoy their teaching and believe they can hold on to their own values and beliefs. However, they also feel that the future is difficult and they are aware of many good teachers who have ‘had enough’ of reduced professional autonomy and obsessions with national test results. They argue passionately for a return to more trust and respect for teacher judgements, especially in a subject which has the fluidity and flexibility that characterises English teaching at its best. [Goodwyn, 2010].
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