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Discourses We Live By

Hazel R. Wright
Marianne Høyen

II. Discourses we work within: of the workplace

II. Discourses we work within: of the workplace

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Photo by Tom Perkins, CC-BY 4.0

1 Collectively, the chapters in this section explore discourses that shape the workplace, which, in this book, is normatively an educational and/or professional centre or context. Issues are addressed from both academic and professional perspectives, in order to consider the customs and boundaries that influence working practices. Here we have two chapters from Danish researchers, one from an Irish and one from an English colleague, but the scope of the material extends to include information on Kenya, too. We also span educational sectors: looking at the recently qualified teacher in Denmark, teacher education students in Denmark and Kenya, adult educators in Ireland, and then at teaching assistants in England working with children deemed to be ‘difficult’.

2In chapter five, ‘Opposing Cultures: Science and Humanities Teaching in Danish Schools’, Marianne Høyen and Mumiah Rasmussen examine the cultural divide between the expectations and practices of humanities (culture) and science (nature) teachers in Denmark, whose different learning is mandated within the state curriculum, possibly permitting a derogatory discourse around cultural subjects. They collect and analyse the life stories of newly qualified teachers, seeking to understand what informs their choice to work within these distinctive traditions and the extent to which this is due to family, schooling or external influences. Are their decisions culturally embedded or determined by opportunity at a later career stage?

3Chapter six, ‘Shaping “the Good Teacher” in Danish and Kenyan Teacher Education’, uses ethnographic material and quantitative data to compare practices in two very different countries where the author, Kari Kragh Blume Dahl, has lived and worked. She questions what informal, institutional norms look like in both contexts and how these impinge on the student group, and she examines the links between institutional discursive power and individual identification, seeking an understanding of what promotes a sense of identity and belonging in students. Her chapter also provides useful contextual data on schooling in each country.

4Next we have a chapter, which considers Irish systems. ‘Irish Adult Educators Find Fulfilment amid Poor Employment Conditions’ (Ch7). Sarah Bates Evoy studies the working conditions of part-time lecturers in Further Education and Training by interviewing the practitioners in person, seeking to establish why they tolerate their conditions of work and whether they are even aware that they are disadvantaged compared to other sectors in education. The chapter uses Margaret Archer’s (2000, 2003) work on identity, agency and structure as an effective framework for analysis, considering wellbeing in terms of natural, practical and social factors.

5Tristan Middleton, a former headteacher and author of the final chapter in this section, ‘Nurture Groups: Perspectives from Teaching Assistants Who Lead Them in Britain’ (Ch8) turns to the English primary stage (ages four to eleven) and examines with teaching assistants how they deal with critical incidents when running Nurture groups for children with challenging behavior. As an insider researcher who has worked with Nurture groups himself, Tristan is keen to capture the reality of the work and encourages the practitioners to talk freely in order to explore both negative and positive aspects. Carried out alongside supervisory sessions, the study coincidentally encouraged reflective practice, creating additional layers of benefit.

6Taken together, these chapters offer a range of insights into the spaces where the personal and official narratives meet, and therefore, the ways that the teachers/practitioners (when prompted) perceive themselves as belonging to the educational culture in which they reside. The approaches are very different, even within national boundaries, but it could be argued that the ways of working and literature that underpin each chapter might influence the reading of the others in the section. There are certainly shared glimpses of the reasons behind decisions to choose and to stay within a particular career, and, in the case of the Irish and English chapters, evidence that practitioners are doing this even when the tangible rewards are less than ideal.

7 Given the overall educational focus of this book, many other chapters will be relevant to these topics. Those that may be of particular interest include Janet Dyson’s exploration of fictional writing as a pedagogic practice for reflection and truth-telling (Ch1); Vera Sheridan’s research on students in Irish higher education encountering and overcoming the failure of first year examinations (Ch10); Patric Wallin’s study of students negotiating the transition to university in Sweden (Ch15); and Laura Mazzoli Smith’s reflective discussion of such a progression in a UK context from a lecturer’s perspective (Ch25). Helen Woodley’s study of school exclusion in Britain (Ch26) lays out what might happen next if initiatives like Nurture groups are not in place to turn children’s behaviour around early in the schooling process.

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