What the resource is:
This paper was first presented at the British Educational Research Association Annual Conference in 2009. The paper is part of the doctoral research conducted by Jo McIntyre at the University of Nottingham. The research was based in three schools in the Midlands which are within socially deprived areas, exploring the reasons why twenty teachers within challenging areas and schools have chosen to embed their professional careers within these settings. It seeks to establish their motivations for this career choice.
The aims of the resource:
The paper is written within the context of the portrayal by the media of schools in "challenging circumstances", where poor examination performance is equated with failing schools and teachers. This context is also part of the current performance management process which is used as a measure of the success of a teacher. McIntyre, having worked in a challenging school herself, is interested in the motivations of staff in such challenging schools for remaining in these schools for substantial parts of their careers. She is also interested in the question of teacher identity within a career often characterised by assessment by external standards, defining identity as "who people are to each other" (citing Benwell and Stokoe).
Key findings or focus:
Using life history interviews with a semi-structured approach, McIntyre interviewed a sample of twenty teachers with a collective total of 614 years experience within inner city education. Her data analysis led her to categorise three macro-themes about the ways in which individuals and communities are linked through relational ties, locational ties and ties of shared values. She uses the research evidence to show the ways in which the theme of relational ties is linked to the motivation for teachers spending large parts of their careers working in challenging schools.
McIntyre's research findings showed that teachers enhance their sense of belonging through their relationships with students, as well as deriving pleasure from enriching the lives of their pupils, which continued after the pupils had left the school. She argues that the emotional connections made were indicative of these relationships, but that teachers had noted a shift in their relationships with pupils due to an emphasis on function rather than identity.
Linked with this first strand was the relationship which developed with colleagues. They were seen as a support network which extended outside of school hours, but one teacher observed the tension between ‘togetherness' and professionalism in other schools she had worked in. McIntyre argues that the relationships formed affirmed the sense of belonging to the school, which may be based on corporate goals, through developing community values. The sense of belonging, she notes, is linked with the development of identity as a teacher through an extended period of service in a school.
The second strand is that of extending ‘the family', by which McIntyre means the nurture and support which teachers experience from their colleagues within a shared, difficult setting. McIntyre's research findings lead her to argue that this developed for teachers through a feeling of facing a common adversity and encountering difficult experiences. This was linked to the motivation to stay in a particular school. She argues that at times the boundary between home and school life was blurred for teachers.
The final strand was that of relationships which move beyond the school gate. These could be about forming an identity in the community, building bridges between the school and the community, or developing reciprocal relationships between the school and the local community.
McIntyre concludes that these multi-layered relationships "draw on many layers of teacher identity" and relate to both the personal and the professional self. The elements of longevity (relationships which begin in school with students and parents become part of a community) and spatiality (the relationships which teachers maintain with students once they become members of the wider community) strengthened teachers' attachments to the school, and the relationships which were made contributed to the sense of identity which the teacher felt. Teachers remained in these challenging environments not for the golden handcuffs (a bonus payment for staying in a challenging school for three years), but because of strongly held values and not a perceived financial self-interest.
The quality, authority and credibility of the resource from your subject perspective in relation to ITE:
This study roots its conclusions within previous academic research into questions of identity, relationships and community. Each conclusion drawn from the interviews is substantiated with direct quotations from the teachers involved as well as previous research evidence or theory. It is worth noting that the research is only based within three secondary schools, and it may be important to establish if the conclusions drawn can be substantiated in a wider range of settings.
The implications for ITE tutors/mentors - when and how it could have best impact:
Sections of this may be useful for prompting trainees to reflect upon their wider professional role and the ways in which this may be linked with questions of identity and relationships within the school environment. It may be difficult, however, for trainees to relate fully to the voice of the established teacher, but may a useful resource to celebrate the work of teachers in challenging schools.
The relevance to ITE students - how and why it has importance:
This paper provides a voice to teachers working in inner city schools and examines their feelings about their identity in the role and their sense of belonging within the school community. It may be a useful prompt to reflect on the wider role and identity of a teacher, as well as issues of equity. It may prove useful to allow trainees who are considering applying for a position in a challenging school to consider the implications regarding teacher identity such schools and the relationships they may create in this type of environment.