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What does it mean to be a learning support teacher? A life-history investigation of ten learning support teachers in the east-coast of Ireland

Day, Therese (2002). What does it mean to be a learning support teacher? A life-history investigation of ten learning support teachers in the east-coast of Ireland. EdD thesis The Open University.

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There has been a rapid expansion of the learning support (LS) teaching service in Ireland since 1999 with approximately one in fifteen primary-school teachers currently working as learning support teachers (LSTs). Although there is a small body of quantitative research on LS teaching, there are no qualitative studies on LSTs themselves. This gap in the research is unfortunate because of the importance of studying teachers’ lives and perspectives as a key to understanding teaching, a now well-established position in biographical research on education.

Using life-history interviews within a social constructivist paradigm, this study investigates the identity and work practices of ten LSTs in primary schools in the east-coast of Ireland. The study is based on the assumption that valuable insights into the work and identity of LSTs can be gained by examining their views and beliefs and the discourses through which they understand themselves and their work. A combination of grounded theory and discourse analysis is used to examine the language they use to construct themselves as LSTs and the discourse of LS teaching.

The evidence from the study shows that there is a recognisable way of using language and engaging in specific practices that can be described as a discourse of LS teaching. The LSTs are both constructors of and constructed by the discourse of LS teaching. Their accounts show that they perceived themselves, and believed others perceived them to be, different from mainstream class-teachers. Using the overarching concept of ‘difference’, three themes were distilled from the LSTs’ accounts and used to analyse the data: their craft knowledge, the teaching of reading and parenthood. Their accounts display a potent union of theory and practice which was guided by their professional craft knowledge. They presented themselves as expert teachers of reading, comfortably embracing different models, thereby displaying their multiple positions and the complexity of the reading process. Drawing on their experiences of parenthood they constructed an identity for themselves as teacher-parents and parent-teachers.

The findings have implications for the provision of in-service and professional development for LSTs. If, as their accounts suggest, the discourse of LS teaching pushes LSTs and their pupils into marginalised positions, it is important to scrutinise this discourse so that the exclusionary assumptions underpinning it are explored. The insider perspectives gained from the life-history accounts offer worthwhile insights into the intuitive craft of teaching in general and the teaching of reading in particular.

Item Type: Thesis (EdD)
Copyright Holders: 2002 The Author
Keywords: Remedial teaching; Reading; Literacy; teaching; job satisfaction; teachers' attitudes
Academic Unit/School: Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies (WELS)
Item ID: 19925
Depositing User: Ann McAloon
Date Deposited: 11 Feb 2010 10:48
Last Modified: 23 May 2018 13:40
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