The starting point for this paper is a Swedish study with the aim to understand and describe the professional identity development of seven novice primary school teachers of mathematics (Palmér, 2013). These novice teachers work as primary school class teachers, teaching several subjects whereof mathematics is one. This is similar to other countries around the world were most primary school teachers are educated as generalists (Tatto, Lerman & Novotná, 2009).
The teaching profession, with or without focus on mathematics teaching, is often described in terms of a changed profession without much continuity between teacher education and schools (Cooney, 2001; OECD, 2005; Sowder, 2007). Graduating from teacher education and starting to work as a teacher can be understood as a transfer or shift in professional identity where the interplay between the individual and their social environment is a central part about which to develop understanding (McNally, Blake, Corbin & Gray, 2008). In the here presented study this understanding is developed through investigating the novice teachers’ participation and reification in different communities of practice (Wenger 1998).
According to Wenger (1998) identity development is to be understood as the negotiated experience of self in the learning trajectory within and between communities of practice. A community of practice is defined through the three dimensions of mutual engagement, joint enterprise and shared repertoire. Mutual engagement is the relationships between the members, about them doing things together as well as negotiating the meaning within the community of practice. Joint enterprise regards the mutual accountability the members feel in relation to the community of practice and it is built by the mutual engagement. The shared repertoire in a community of practice regards its collective stories, artifacts, notions and actions as reifications of the mutual engagement.
An individual can participate in communities of practice trough engagement, imagination and/or alignment. Engagement implies active involvement and requires the possibility to physical participation in activities. Imagination implies going beyond time and space in physical sense and create images of the world and makes it possible to feel connected even to people we have never met but that in some way match our own patterns of actions. Participation through alignment implies that the individual change, align, in relation to the community of practice the individual wants to, or is forced to, be a member of. All three kinds of memberships are constantly changing and learning trajectories in communities of practice can be peripheral, inbound, inside, on the boundary or outbound (Wenger, 1998).
At the time of their graduation the novice teachers in the here presented study expressed a wish to change the mathematics teaching in schools. In their teacher education they had experienced a new way to teach mathematics in line with what is often named as the reform (Ross, McDougall & Hogaboam-Gray, 2002; NCTM, 1991 & 2000). This is similar to what several other studies have shown (for example Bjerneby Häll, 2006; Cooney, 2001; Sowder, 2007) However, the novice teachers also expressed several limitations they thought would prevent them from succeeding with their desired changes. In this paper especially one of those limitations will be focused on, namely practicing teachers. At the time of their graduation the novice teachers express that practicing teachers probably will limit their possibilities to change mathematics teaching in a reformative direction since practicing teachers want to keep on to the traditions. In this paper it will be described, based on the novice teachers’ memberships and learning trajectories in communities of practice, how they deal with this expected limitation during the two years after their graduation and how it influences their professional identity development.
Method
When wanting to acquire a deep understanding of a phenomenon, Flyvbjerg (2006) advocates choosing a few cases where the respondents have maximum experience of what is to be investigated. The seven respondents in the here presented study were selected because they in teacher education chose mathematics as one of their main subjects. Some of them also wrote their final teacher education Bachelor theses on mathematics education. The average age of the respondents (all female) at the time for their graduation was 31 years. An ethnographic approach was used to make visible the interplay between the individual and their social environment. Ethnography is not a collection of methods but a special way to look at, listen to and think about social phenomena where the main interest is to understand the meaning activities have for individuals and how individuals understand themselves and others (Arvatson & Ehn 2009; Aspers 2007; Hammersley & Atkinsson 2007). The empirical material in the study is from self-recordings made by the respondents, observations and interviews. All of these have been made in a selective intermittent way (Jeffrey & Troman 2004), which means that the time from the start to the end of the fieldwork has been long, but with a flexible frequency of field visits. The observations have been both participating and non-participating and the interviews have been both spontaneous conversations during observations and formal interviews (individual and in groups) based on thematic interview guides. The respondents used mp3-players for their self-recordings and they were told to record whatever and whenever they wanted and that it was up to them to decide what was important for the researcher to know about starting to work as a primary school teacher of mathematics. These varying empirical materials have in the analysis been treated as complete-empiricism (Aspers, 2007). The analysis has been made in two different, but co-operating, ways: with communities of practice as a lens and with methods inspired by grounded theory. Using grounded theory implies building and connecting categories grounded in the empirical material by using codes (Charmaz, 2006). In the study one such category became frames for teaching mathematics. This category was developed through coding segments where the respondents expressed (words and/or actions) obstacles, difficulties and/or resistance regarding their mathematics teaching. Within this category the here presented limitation, practicing teachers, is a subset.
Expected Outcomes
At the time of graduation the novice teachers are outbound members by engagement and imagination in a community of reform mathematics teaching. They have an expectation that practicing teachers will limit their possibilities to change mathematics teaching in line with the shared repertoire in this community of practice. The years after graduation are very different for the respondent but they all work as teachers in one way or another. Similar is that they feel lonely since there are no cooperation between the teachers in schools as they had expected. The novice teachers work on their own and not much of the kind of mathematics teaching they talked about before graduation is visible. Two years after graduation the novice teachers meet for a group interview. In the interview they, among other things, talk about their wish to change mathematics teaching and why they have not managed to do this so far. Again they start to talk about practicing teachers as a limitation. However, not by preventing the novice teachers from teach mathematics as they want to, but by being absent. The novice teachers lack the opportunity to collaborate with and get support from other teachers. The worry they expressed before graduation regarding being limited by practicing teachers has changed into a wish that other teachers would take more notice of and help them. The title of the paper, just as expected and exactly the opposite, reflect this change. Other teachers became a limitation but not by interfering but by being absent. Two years after graduation, the novice teachers are peripheral members in the community of reform mathematics teaching. However, the lack of opportunities to collaborate with other teachers has prevented them from developing new memberships in communities of teachers and/or teaching (mathematics), which make their professional identity development lonesome.
References
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