Teachers' Lives and Careers

By Stephen J. Ball; Ivor F. Goodson | Go to book overview

Critical Incidents in the Classroom: Identities, Choices and Careers

Lynda Measor

Editors’ Note: This paper draws on data from an ESRC funded project on teachers’ careers and lives, directed by Peter Woods. The data arise from life history interviews with experienced teachers who are looking back on their early days in the classroom and the problems they faced.


Critical Phases and Critical Incidents

In the research on life history and sociologically read biography, the issue of ‘critical phases’ has already emerged as an area of importance. Strauss and Rainwater (1962, p. 105) for example, discussed ‘periods of strain’ in the lives of the chemists they were researching. During these critical phases, particular events occur, which are important. Rob Walker (1976) in his work on teachers’ careers used the term ‘critical incidents’ to describe such events.

I want to argue that there are ‘critical incidents’ which are key events in the individual’s life, and around which pivotal decisions revolve. These events provoke the individual into selecting particular kinds of actions, they in turn lead them in particular directions, and they end up having implications for identity. Becker (1966) wrote of ‘these crucial interactive episodes, in which new lines of individual and collective activity are forged…and new aspects of the self brought into being’ (p. xiv). They are a useful area to study, because they reveal, like a flashbulb, the major choice and change times in people’s lives. In this chapter, I want to pinpoint the ‘critical incidents’ in some teachers’ biographies and to give detailed descriptions of them. From that data we can begin to move toward theory, to find whether there are any common patterns in different biographies, so to work toward ‘the developmental, generalized formulation of careers’ that Glaser (1964) called for (p. xv).

In the data presented here, it becomes apparent that ‘critical incidents’ are most likely to occur at particular times in the individual’s life. These are the ‘periods of

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