Academic journal article Trames

Reconstructing Teacher's Professional Identity in a Research Discourse: A Professional Development Opportunity in an Informal Setting

Academic journal article Trames

Reconstructing Teacher's Professional Identity in a Research Discourse: A Professional Development Opportunity in an Informal Setting

Article excerpt

"Any researcher coming fresh into an environment has the potential for upsetting the local ecology." Grant et al. 1979:465

1. Introduction Professional learning occurs in many diverse ways. Educational research investigates teacher learning from diverse perspectives and focuses on its different aspects (the following analysis is based mostly on American research in the last two decades). It sways from delineating the content of professional knowledge (e.g. Shulman 1987) to identifying the mechanisms and conditions of learning (e.g. Carter 1990), to analyzing the ways in which knowledge is held and assessed (e.g. Fenstermacher 1994, 2000), to illuminating the processes of how professional knowledge develops in practice and informs it (e.g. Connelly & Clandinin 1999, Lieberman & McLaughlin 1992). For the most part, the wide range of pre-service and in-service events and everyday classroom practice bound the context of these researchers' investigations of teachers' learning. However, most of these studies do not account for informal learning that occurs in settings that are not specifically designed for teachers' professional development. Some aspects of informal learning have been analyzed (e.g. Kottler 1997). Nonetheless, little attention has been paid to researching informal teachers' learning in situations in which teachers are subjects of scholarly investigation.

With this ecological study, I focus on teachers' learning in a research project and ask, whether and how a teacher learns as a participant of a study, and other related questions: Are educational researchers always aware of their influence on the situation when they are in the field? What do researchers leave behind after their intrusion? How do teachers respond to being researched? These and similar questions need attention because any interaction (in this case, between a researcher and a teacher) is a particular social experience that creates new learning opportunities. Researchers report on their experiences and findings. Teachers, however, leave the scene in silence. There are only a few studies (e.g. Rex 2002), in which teachers have a voice in expressing their learning from participation in an inquiry. This study, therefore, attempts to fill in the gap existing in understanding how teachers pursue professional growth in informal settings and how they position themselves to do that. The investigation is based on the assumption that research in which voices of teachers are heard can tell us about their learning in ways otherwise not accessible.

Thus, I aim to draw attention to possible outcomes of teacher-researcher interaction. I do so by illuminating the trajectory of one teacher's learning as a reconstruction of her professional identity in the specific social situation. In other words, I explore how the teacher positions herself as a professional in the process of interaction with me as a researcher. This study encourages reconceptualizing the process of "doing" research with teachers. It aims at increasing awareness of all possible figures that engage in helping teachers become better professionals. Hence, researchers, policy makers, teacher educators and teachers, would benefit from knowing how teachers learn in informal settings, how teachers' understandings evolve under researchers' conscious or unconscious influence.

In the first part of this paper, I explore theoretical perspectives of research on teachers' learning paying particular attention to how theories of learning represent teachers as learners in informal settings such as researcher-teacher relationships. The second part is an empirical account of the teacher's learning during the study. I investigate the relationship between the teacher's learning about her teaching and reconstruction of her professional identity. I do so by representing what the teacher does in order to learn in the research relationship. I treat the interview data as socially produced texts, which I analyze applying discourse analysis. …

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