Why Do Good Art Teachers Find It Hard to Stay in the Public School System?

By Cohen-Evron, Nurit | Studies in Art Education, Fall 2002 | Go to article overview

Why Do Good Art Teachers Find It Hard to Stay in the Public School System?


Cohen-Evron, Nurit, Studies in Art Education


This study is part of extended research that explores how beginning art teachers negotiate their teaching identity and beliefs within the public educational system. The research involved 28 former art student-teachers who recently graduated from the School of Art, Beit Berl College in Israel. In the beginning of this article I briefly describe the difference between the terms: "teacher's role" and "teacher's identity." This provides the conceptual framework for my analysis of the difficulties the art teachers described as conflict between their roles and their beliefs and teaching identity. The art teachers' partial tales of the challenges, problems and satisfactions they encountered, and the descriptions of their negotiations within their marginal place in the schools, provide an opportunity to pay close attention to the difficulties and conflicts in their practice. The major challenges emerging from the teachers' tales include a feeling of isolation, having to negotiate the status of art, and conflicts with the educational system. In conclusion, some possible answers to why good art teachers find it difficult to stay in the public school system are offered.

According to studies in the U.S. and in Israel, a large percentage of new teachers leaves the classroom within 5 years (Faber, 1984; Geva-May, 1995; Sabar, 2001). Those with higher academic degrees are among the first to leave (Amstrong, 1984; Van Manen, 1991). Many that decide to stay resort to overly conservative, unimaginative pedagogy in order to survive (Wittrock, 1986; May, 1995).

As part of studying the ways beginning art teachers negotiate their teaching identity and beliefs within the public educational system (Cohen-- Evron, 2001), I collected their tales of the. challenges, problems, and satisfactions they encountered during their everyday work. Their descriptions of negotiations within their marginal place in the schools provide an opportunity to pay close attention to what they portray as the difficulties and conflicts in their practice and why good art teachers find it difficult to stay in the public school system.

The Distinction Between Art Teachers' Role and Art Teachers' Identity

What disturbs me is that if you are a good teacher you do not use your potential. Because the educational system demand something else it changes you to become mediocre. It isn't just the demand to cover the material, but also the whole attitude... In the first year I felt like a racehorse that cannot run. And [after 5 years of teaching] I still feel so. (Naomi, a high school art teacher, December 17, 1999)

Britzman (1991) writes that as teachers "we construct not only our teaching practices and all the relationships this entails, but our teaching voices and identities" (p. 1). In the mainstream discourse of teacher education, teacher identity is viewed as synonymous with teacher's role (Britzman, 1992). Nevertheless, there is an the important distinction between the terms "teachers' role" and "teachers' identity." Britzman (1992) explains, "role speaks to function whereas identity voices investments and commitments. Function, or what one should do, and investments, or what one feels, are often at odds" (p. 29). A teacher's role is determined by teaching conditions and the formal expectations of the different people involved in schooling (the superintendent, the principal, parents, students, colleagues, the curriculum, the teachers themselves). This often does not coincide with the beliefs and expectations of teachers. Yet teachers' beliefs and the perceptions they hold about the subject matter to be taught, about their students, and about teaching and learning determine the ways they interpret what is desirable or undesirable (Kagan, 1992; Sivertsen, 1994). Thus there is often a conflict between what is expected and what is believed, and teachers must negotiate their identity within these conflicted representations and expectations.

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