Academic journal article English Language Teaching

The Construction of the Teacher's Authority in Pedagogic Discourse

Academic journal article English Language Teaching

The Construction of the Teacher's Authority in Pedagogic Discourse

Article excerpt


This article examines the discursive construction of the authoritative identity of teachers in relation to a number of issues in the classroom context, including identity negotiation, pedagogic discourse and teacher-student power relationship. A variety of classroom teacher talks are analyzed from a discourse analytical perspective, revealing the core constituent parts of the teacher's authoritative identity and the constructive process of the authoritative discourse. The analysis shows that different combinations of the constituent parts make up distinctive frameworks of the teacher's authoritative status. The discursive choices that emerge in the negotiation of the authoritative identity result in a strong or a weak form of authority. The article concludes with a discussion of the relevance of the teacher's authoritative identity to pedagogic discourse and teacher-student power relations.

Keywords: teacher's authoritative identity, discourse analysis, pedagogic discourse, teacher-student power relation

1. Introduction: Authority and Identity

The identity of a teacher as an authority begins the moment he or she enters the classroom. The teacher summons the students' attention, organizes learning-related activities, presents new knowledge, disciplines undesired behavior of students, gives feedback, and announces the end of class. This authority is present more or less explicitly throughout any lesson in any classroom, even though the instructional content and activities may vary. Authority is one of the core constituents of the professional identity of the teacher and an essential guarantee of effective classroom management and instruction.

1.1 Literature Review

Commenting on the structuring of pedagogic discourse, Bernstein (1990, p. 159) states that "[i]t is of course obvious that all pedagogic discourse creates a moral regulation of the social relations of transmission/acquisition, that is, rules of order, relation, and identity, and that such a moral order is prior to, and a condition for, the transmission of competences." In the classroom, the rules of order, relations and identities must be established prior to the transmission of subject knowledge.

Numerous studies have been done on teachers' identity (Preuss & Hofsass, 1991; Siraj-Blatchford, 1993; Beijaard, 1995; Antonek, McCormick, & Donato, 1997; Mawhinney & Xu, 1997; Coldron & Smith, 1999; Connelly & Clandinin, 1999; Samuel & Stephens, 2000; Beijaard, Verloop, & Meijer, 2000; Beijaard, Meijer, & Verloop, 2004). At the conceptual level, these studies stress the developmental process of identity formation, in which the teacher's professional identity is seen as mobile and negotiable, closely connected to self-reflection and self-development, and determined by contextual factors such as educational policies, social networks and teaching contexts. In a comprehensive study of Beauchamp & Thomas (2009), we also see "the constant reinventing of themselves that teachers undergo". Many of the data are narrative in which teachers tell about their subjective understanding as professionals, about the developmental nature of identity formation and about their teaching lives. These data focus on unique discursive subjects and differences in the process of self-realization, indicating that identity is inconsistent and sometimes paradoxical. Just as in sociology and psychology where the concern with the personal identity and the current "liquid modernity" may "corrode the resources people can draw upon to configure a sense of self" (Wetherell, 2010, pp. 3-4), contemporary research on teachers' identity is likewise characterized by the subjective, idiosyncratic formation of identity, the confusion and conflict within the teacher.

However, this has disregarded the social, collective and continuous nature of the professional identity of teachers. While we admit that ?sociocultural identities are not static, deterministic constructs that teachers bring to the classroom and take away unchanged at the end of a lesson, nor are they simply dictated by membership in a larger social, cultural, or linguistic group? …

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