St. Colman's: a Case Study in Teachers' Perspectives: History Teachers in Context

O'Boyle, Ailish (2000). St. Colman's: a Case Study in Teachers' Perspectives: History Teachers in Context. EdD thesis The Open University.



This case study researches teachers’ perspectives within St. Colman’s, a large voluntary secondary school in rural Ireland. It investigates History teachers as a group of subject teachers within this context. ‘Perspectives’ are located within the interpretive sociology of symbolic interactionism. The study integrates historical, micropolitical, biographical and epistemological contexts, in a way which constructs the school’s history and the working lives of its teachers. The story’s central theme is how teacher perspectives are the product of the symbiotic relationship between their careers and the school organisation. History teachers’ biographies provide an additional context for examining the role of the subject, the subject department and the curriculum in the formation of perspectives. The thesis is divided into ten chapters. Chapters one and twoestablish this case study as an ethnographic investigation and set out the structure and methodology underpinning the research. The empirical data is presented in two strands, moving from the general to the specific. The first strand, which comprises chapters three, four and five, explores the origin, development and dynamic of teachers’ sub cultures, professional status and identities. Beginning with the wider school organisation, the study moves to the social networks of the staffroom and shows how group culture is the product of teacher socialisation, shared experiences and micropolitical orientations that have their origins in the history of the school and the ‘social dramas’ experienced in times of change. The second strand; chapters six, seven and eight, is a more focused examination of history teachers’ careers. The nature and role of the History department in shaping teachers’ identities and status is explored, while biography, life cycle and career experiences are linked to teachers’ craft knowledge as expressed in their perspectives on history as a subject and their pedagogy in the classroom. The case study concludes that teachers’ perspectives are defined in the context of their careers, which are shaped by changing school structures and processes, the development of teacher sub-cultures and the competing demands made on them as professionals. While their identities are still anchored in their role as teachers, they adopt coping strategies to manage their careers. This can give rise to a self image of disillusionment, and alienation from the school organisation. The study recommends that while greater attention must be paid to cultural leadership in schools, teachers must also be empowered through ideological involvement and professional development to take charge of their own careers.

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