Primary Teachers Talking: A Study of Teaching as Work

By Jennifer Nias | Go to book overview

Chapter four

The development of personal concerns

This chapter is concerned with the ways in which teachers develop and with some of the reasons why they do. Central to the argument which it presents is the notion that development is not the same as change; the latter term implies a break with the present more fundamental than the former. Much of the recent writing, which has attested to the glacial slowness with which educational practice alters, overlooks this fact (an admirable summary and commentary is to be found in Fullan 1982). Explanations for teachers’ well-documented resistance to change have only gradually expanded to include the latter’s own perspective. Modifications in professional practice often require individuals to alter deeply-rooted, self-defining attitudes, values and beliefs; the personal redefinition which this involves is likely to be slow, stressful and sometimes traumatic (Marris 1968; 1974).

This is not to argue that teachers, as people, are incapable of changing their ‘basic assumptions’ (Abercrombie 1969) about the nature of teaching and learning and of their part in both. Examples of personal change in members of the profession make it clear that radical redefinition of the self can occur, whether through a ‘road to Damascus’ experience (Razzell 1968) or by slow, painful accommodation to the views of trusted participants in a professional group (Nias 1987a). To press home the claim that the substantial self of the teacher is stable and well-defended is not to argue that its practitioners are static or moribund or that the educational system is incapable of growth.

Nor is it to suggest that teachers cannot develop or modify their behaviour over time and in response to circumstances. In the first place, they are human beings and such a claim would therefore be manifestly untrue, given what we know of adults’ physical and mental changes during maturation and ageing (e.g. Kimmel 1973). Similarly, there are a number of theories of human development which presumably apply to teachers as much as they do to any other adult and so suggest the possibility of personal development within the professional role.

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