Primary Teachers Talking: A Study of Teaching as Work

By Jennifer Nias | Go to book overview

Chapter eight

Life in staffrooms: wider horizons

In the previous chapter, I presented evidence to suggest that, despite the privacy, loneliness and individualism of primary teaching, becoming and remaining a skilled classroom practitioner is a process in which individuals’ head teachers, fellow teachers and other adult colleagues are often closely involved. I have also suggested that this involvement is, to a large extent, controlled and monitored by the individuals themselves as they selectively watch, talk to, lean on, imitate, learn, and borrow from their peers and seniors. In this chapter, I take these two arguments further, to show that, once they are assured of their professional competence, many teachers look to the other adults in their schools to increase their sense of personal efficacy and influence. They seek promotion to posts which give them wider responsibilities, participate in teams and whole-school activities, look to their colleagues for stimulation and challenge. The self is fulfilled and extended through and by means of the ideas and actions of adult as well as child others. This does not however always or easily happen. All too often the culture and structure of primary schools impede the development of either collaboration or constructive disagreement.

Yet it is possible for pairs or groups of teachers to work together in ways which allow and encourage them to experience simultaneously a sense of common achievement, an awareness of mutual influence and a sense that they are learning from one another. Moreover, it is clear from the accounts of such groups with which I finish the chapter that their members also support and help one another in the ways suggested in Chapter 7. In the process they come to like and often to care about one another. Although groups like these (with members who simultaneously meet all one another’s felt-needs) occur relatively rarely, and often by chance, they have a powerful and enduring effect upon those who participate in them. Working together towards the fulfilment of the same ideals, stimulated by forthright but positive debate, bound together by intimate knowledge of and affection for one another as persons, and with communication between them eased by common understandings born of shared experience, they find new levels of self-extension and of fulfilment in their work, moving beyond pleasure and satisfaction to an all-absorbing delight, in each other and in the task. For some teachers, working in schools can be ‘the best experience of all’.

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