Primary Teachers Talking: A Study of Teaching as Work

By Jennifer Nias | Go to book overview

Introduction

We all think we know what it is to have been a pupil. Accounts of that experience abound—fictional, autobiographical, historical, anthropological, poetic, and prosaic. Tangentially there is a substantial literature relating to teachers, much of it filtered through the writers’ own memories of fear, humiliation, confusion, unhappiness or, more rarely, self-confidence and success. Some autobiographies and biographies also document the experience of being a teacher and in some of them, teachers (or sympathetic observers) have written accounts of their work. Many of these make good reading; they are touching, humorous, gently-barbed, and evangelical (of a particular educational style or mode). Less appealing to the general public is the mounting literature on teachers written by sociologists and teacher educators. This falls into three categories: books which are directly or indirectly about the classroom work of teachers; those which consider teachers in staffrooms and classrooms as part of case studies of schools; and those which focus on teachers’ lives and careers. All of them draw to a greater or lesser extent upon interviews with teachers or on notes of staff room talk, some on classroom observation. Yet very few attempt to portray, as much as any outsider can, an insider’s account of teaching. Moreover, with very few exceptions, books and articles published in the past 20 years in England, North America and Australia have been about secondary schools. Primary teachers have been given little opportunity to speak for themselves.

Two books (Gibson, 1973; Huggett, 1986) and the analysis of an open-ended questionnaire survey (Primary School Research and Developmental Group, 1986) do give verbatim accounts by English teachers, some of them primary. These accounts begin to present a living picture of what teaching is like for those who practise it. None of them is, however, set within a theoretical framework which might provide practitioners, parents and decision-makers with a more generalized understanding of primary teachers and the ways in which they experience their work. Nor does any of them consider how teachers or their thinking might change over time.

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