Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Studying Teachers' Lives as an Educational Issue: Autobiographical Reflections from a Scholarly Journey

Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Studying Teachers' Lives as an Educational Issue: Autobiographical Reflections from a Scholarly Journey

Article excerpt

Setting the Stage

What does it mean to live a teacher's life? What does it mean to be a teacher, to become a teacher, to stay in teaching, or to leave the profession? Why are teachers doing what they are doing the way they are doing it? These questions have fascinated me throughout my academic career as a researcher as well as in my teaching and my work as a teacher educator, an in-service trainer, and a facilitator of school improvement processes. In my address, I will look back on my career and the ways in which I have tried to understand teachers' work lives. These autobiographical reflections of my own academic development are the story of an ongoing effort to grasp and unravel the lives of teachers through appropriate conceptualization, empirical grounding, and theory building, which eventually constitute the best possible basis to design interventions and practices. It was and continues to be a fascinating journey. Education was and continues to be "a beautiful risk," as Biesta (2013) rightly labeled it. Making one's own work and professional development the theme of a lecture creates the risk of a narcissistic or egocentric discourse. I hope I'll be able to avoid this by stressing the development in thinking and conceptualization as well as the methodological choices. Furthermore, I will try to situate my work against the broader international developments in educational research on teachers' lives since the 1980s of the last century and, from there, formulate a few elements for a further research agenda.

A final introductory comment: I hope to show that my academic interest in and approach to teachers' lives have not been those of a sociologist, anthropologist, or psychologist but those of an educationalist. What drives me has not only been to understand teachers' work lives as a purpose in itself but eventually always included the ambition and hope to actually contribute to an improvement of the educational practices and to teacher development. Mentioning "improvement," however, immediately complicates things. It automatically brings up the central importance of normative issues and the need to take a stance on what is "good" education, "good" teaching, "teacher professionalism." My stance is that professional teaching and teacher professionalism--as it develops over the time of one's career--require and reflect both expertise and commitment, and that teacher professionalism only emerges in educational practices. I will come back to those three words: expertise, commitment, and their emergence in practice.

As a consequence, teacher development during their work lives not only entails a technical or instrumental dimension (e.g., how can I make things work?) but also a moral dimension (e.g., the inevitability of making value-laden choices, acting on them, and taking responsibility for them). This fundamental ethical commitment in a relationship of care and responsibility, furthermore, does not leave one emotionally indifferent (Filipp, 1990). And finally, the value-laden choices can and will be contested, and the discussion on criteria and goals results from the ongoing processes of power, negotiation, and influence, thus reflecting also an essentially political dimension. In other words, I agree with Hargreaves's programmatic claim in 1995 that teachers, their work, and their professional development include technical, moral, emotional, and political dimensions that are connected and need to be understood in their interplay. Teachers' lives are lived as situated in particular time-space contexts, and they emerge in and through the enacted practices for which they carry responsibility. This is not the same as accountability (Kelchtermans, 2011), and I am fully aware that believers and promotors in performativity policies--be they policy makers or educational researchers--with high-stakes testing and accountability procedures in many countries, will disagree with my stance on teacher professionalism (Kelchtermans, 2007b). …

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