Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Representations of Substitute Teachers and the Paradoxes of Professionalism

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Representations of Substitute Teachers and the Paradoxes of Professionalism

Article excerpt

In 1998, teachers in Wellston, Ohio, went on strike to negotiate better working conditions. In an effort to settle strike negotiations, teacher union organizer Carol Rupert made a passionate plea to end the "unruliness and utter chaos" that characterized the local classrooms ("Growing School Districts," 1998). Consistent with Rupert's plea, the Wellston Teachers Association ("Wellston Schools: Teachers Out, Subs Move In," 1998) stated, "We don't need ineffective outsiders [emphasis added] here in our district." The "utter chaos" and "ineffective outsiders" were the substitute teachers brought in to maintain the classroom during salary disputes. Although this characterization of substitute teachers may be familiar, it does not address the complexity of the position of substitute teachers within the current moment of educational reform. In this article, I explore the position of substitute teachers as they are represented in everyday schools, the popular and news media, and by substitute teachers themselves. I do so to contribute to an area that is largely uninvestigated (both empirically and theoretically) as well as to illustrate some of the implications of such representations given the rising demand for and use of substitute teachers in the K-12 classroom.

This article presents some of the findings and implications from a larger qualitative research study regarding substitute teachers and discourses of professionalism conducted by the author from May 1998 to May 2000. The focus of this article is the representations of substitute teachers. Elsewhere, I discuss some of the practices of teacher substitution, including issues of certification, years, and types of experience and variation in district requirements (Weems, 2000). In addition, my dissertation includes an in-depth analysis of the ethnographic themes that emerged from the 16 interviews with practicing substitute teachers, professional teachers, and administrators. My use of data and examples in this article is to illustrate and support why looking at substitute teachers might be helpful for the larger debates regarding professionalism and teacher quality--two issues that take center stage in contemporary educational reform.

DISCOURSE ANALYSIS--A DIFFERENT APPROACH TO A FAMILIAR TOPIC

Images of the professional teacher proliferate within educational reform literature and research (Building Excellence Schools for Today and the 21st Century, 1997; Darling-Hammond, 1985; Etzioni, 1969; The Holmes Group, 1986; Lieberman, 1988; Malen, 1993; Popkewitz, 1988; Pratte & Rury, 1991; Robbins, 1993; Tom, 1997; Valli & Rennert-Ariev, 2000). Such images tend to stem from either psychological (such as Bandura, 1997) or sociohistorical (such as Apple, 1987; Etzioni, 1969; Popkewitz, 1998) conceptions of teaching as a profession and teachers as workers. The literature on professionalization and teaching tends to focus on teachers as either constrained by power or agents of power Although this literature offers significant insight into how teachers might improve their practice and are constrained by sociohistorical barriers, much of this literature tends to reinforce a false dichotomy between the individual and society as two competing and exclusive constructs. Thus, macro-structures of oppressive systems in schools and society are seen as separate and disconnected from micro-processes of teaching practices.

Although poststructural theorizing does not offer a solution for bridging this divide, it does challenge us to put under suspicion the very constructs and terms that keep that split intelligible. (1) For example, poststructural theorizing suggests that teachers are both constrained and enabled by the relations of power/knowledge embedded in discourses and institutions in which they are located. A poststructural approach may be helpful for conceptualizing educational reform in that it insists that we analyze both the possibilities and limitations of particular models, as well as consider the implications of particular models for how we think and talk about educational ideas, practices, and problems. …

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