Primary Teachers Talking: A Study of Teaching as Work

By Jennifer Nias | Go to book overview

Chapter nine

‘Feeling like a teacher’

In Chapters 2 and 4 I showed that it is possible to teach for years, successfully and with the affirmation of one’s head teacher and colleagues, without incorporating ‘teacher’ into one’s self-image. As several of my interviewees said in their first decade of work, ‘I teach, but I do not feel like a teacher’. However, by their second decade most of those whom I interviewed had incorporated their professional identity into their self-image (i.e. they ‘felt like teachers’). Clearly, in any attempt to understand the nature of teaching as work, it is important to include the affective reality of experienced, committed teachers. Accordingly, this chapter is built around an analysis of conversations with fifty people in mid-career of whom I asked, ‘Do you feel like a teacher?’, and explained why I wanted to know. If they said they did, I then requested an explication. In addition, I have used comments they made when they were talking more generally about their work.

What emerges from this analysis is the contradictory nature of the feelings associated with teaching. Various reasons can be adduced for this. The outcome of all of them, for the successful teacher, is mastery over a complex and difficult skill: the theme of ‘balance’ runs through the latter part of this chapter and, it can be argued, accounts for the sense of fit between identity and work which, at its best, characterizes ‘feeling like a teacher’.

Eight of my fifty interviewees did not see themselves as teachers. One man and one woman had drifted into it and were trapped by financial pressures and lack of alternative employment. Three women (one a college lecturer) and one man enjoyed some aspects of teaching but rejected what they saw as the socially imposed role of the primary teacher. The two adult education tutors felt in their new jobs, ‘You can go in as yourself, not with that teacher-person to hide behind’, or, ‘There is no switch of personality, I am the same person while teaching as I am outside’. Two men, though enthusiastic about teaching, felt all adults were teachers and preferred not to split their occupation from their other roles. I have used the responses of all but the first two of these people.

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