Primary Teachers Talking: A Study of Teaching as Work

By Jennifer Nias | Go to book overview
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Chapter seven

Life in staffrooms: dependence and interdependence

Teachers’ continuing preoccupation with pupils should not be taken to mean either that other adults in their schools are unimportant to them or that they have no contact with them. Indeed, the reverse is true. Head teachers and colleagues often help inexperienced teachers to shape and develop the professional competence which they desire to achieve, not simply by providing referential support for their self-defining values (see Chapter 3) but also by offering advice, guidance, assistance, and reinforcement. Practical and emotional support of this kind remains a significant feature of the teacher’s life in later years, for not even the skilled and self-confident are immune to the daily ups and downs of classroom life.

In this chapter, I analyse the ways in which teachers use their colleagues as models, as ‘professional parents’, to provide ideas, information and practical help, for emotional support and for friendship. I also pick out the main factors that seem to prevent the development of whole staff groups among whom individuals can feel personally and professionally relaxed and secure, and from whom they can therefore draw the emotional reassurance and strength which their work demands.

Relevant material came from several places, a fact which itself reflects the important but tangential nature of staff relationships in teachers’ lives. I started out with a fairly naïve view of the topic, as my early questions reflect: Did you get all the help you wanted in your first job(s)? From whom? Why not? How did you learn how to behave in this school? Have you at any point consciously used another teacher as a model? But I also found the answers to my questions about job satisfaction and dissatisfaction threw up constant references to head teachers and colleagues, and that some of my most powerful insights into the lives of adults in primary schools came almost incidentally. In the second interviews I chose once again to approach the subject obliquely. So, I asked no direct questions about staff relationships, but instead followed up any references to them which came in other responses (e.g. Which has been your favourite job so far? Why?). The early part of this chapter draws mainly on material from the first interviews, for it was in their first decade of work that these teachers were most aware of needing to learn the knowledge and skills of their craft. The later part uses responses from both sets of interviews.

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