System failure
: phenomenological study of risk in pre-service teachers' in-school experience

  • Jenny Buckworth

    Student thesis: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) - CDU


    Perceptions of a crisis in education have led to an intense scrutiny of teacher quality and the ‘classroom readiness’ of graduate teachers. A particular focus of criticism is one element of initial teacher education: the Professional Experience. This study explores questions about this crisis, from the perspective of teacher education students. This research, and the experiences of these emerging teachers, is shaped by questions about the flexibility and responsiveness of practising teachers and, the increasing levels of accountability and instrumental demands on the teaching profession. Further challenges for teacher education students and those organisations that prepare teachers include the contradictions and continuities that emerge from dominant neoliberal ideology of market forces and escalating regulatory measures.

    This Australian study, conducted in 2013-14, explores failed episodes of Professional Experience of six (6) pre-service teachers. These self-selecting participants were two (2) male and four (4) female pre-service teachers from four (4) universities. Data were gathered using semi-structured interviews and analysed using a hermeneutic phenomenological method. Jonathon Smith’s Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis and Beck and Beck Gernsheim’s theory of Individualization served as analytical and theoretical tools.

    Substantial narratives across the data illustrated the breadth of systemic failures that pre-service teachers face. The research found that, rather than an affirming, welcoming community of practice for pre-service teachers, each participant experienced high levels of alienation and hostility from mentor teachers and the profession during their Professional Experience. The work cultures that were encountered exhibited an absence of supportive mentoring that indicated an absence of structured and systemic supervision. These workplaces displayed ad hoc approaches towards notions of reciprocal professional learning for emerging teachers. School staff failed to recognise the cultural capital and background of the student teachers and, in some cases, actively worked against their success, displaying racist and discriminatory behaviours and attitudes. 

    The research also found that the agency of students and the support for their agency was lacking within policy settings, schools and the practices of teacher education providers. Although the selected participants eventually succeeded in their subsequent Professional Experience and ultimately the course completion, it was not without high levels of risk and uncertainty. 

    The study indicates substantial implications for the profession, policy makers, schools and teacher education, in order to:• Empower pre-service teachers in workplace settings through recognition and reward for the integrity and worth that they bring to the education sector;• Develop long-term plans across education communities in which inclusive, non-discriminatory practices support and strengthen the integration of diverse cohorts of students enrolled in initial teacher education; and,• Promote the acknowledgement of personal worth, scholarship and relevant learning opportunities for pre-service and in-service teachers.

    Addressing and acting upon these points can begin to empower teacher graduates, who increasingly characterise changing cohorts of learners in today’s global learning communities, and embrace the diversity that they represent.

    Most importantly, the pre-service teacher participants argued that:• Anonymity and powerlessness were the norm during their Professional Experience and posed unanticipated challenges in becoming a teacher;• Overcoming the behaviours of silencing and disregard called for resilience, agency and activism; and,• The professionalism of teaching is being diminished by the contradictory and exclusionary behaviours of some of those within the profession.

    This thesis concluded that system failure neglects to acknowledge those who are vulnerable. The homogeneity of existing policies does not address the pluralism and diversity that is typified in today’s education workplaces and, blind to the silences and silencing of those wronged, portrays these as culprits. It is with agency and resilience that the pre-service teachers, the misconceived wrongdoers, can be successful. Further change in policy may generate from collectives of pre-service teachers as networks of learners in a changing educational workplace.
    Date of AwardMar 2017
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorSue Shore (Supervisor), Peter Kell (Supervisor) & Sue Erica Smith (Supervisor)

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