South African Journal of Education

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Understanding teacher identity from a symbolic interactionist perspective: two ethnographic narratives

B Smit, E Fritz


In this ethnographic inquiry we portray two teacher narratives reflecting
educational change in the context of two South African schools. The study was
conducted as part of a larger inquiry into ten schools in urban South Africa.1 A
decade of democracy begs some attention to educational progress and reform,
from the viewpoint of teachers and with the culture of their schools as the
inquiry's landscape. We present two ethnographic narratives, crafted of a
typical ‘township/rural' school, and an established Afrikaans school, with two
teachers as the main social actors. Data were sourced from passive observations,
interviews, informal conversations, and journal data. These field texts
were analysed for content and narrative using, as methodological frame, the
‘Clandininian' “metaphorical three-dimensional inquiry space”. Three data
themes, teacher authority, commitment to the profession in terms of staying or
leaving, and multitasking are theorised from a symbolic interactionist framework,
using constructs such as situational, social and personal identity. The
major finding of this inquiry speaks to the power of the working context, the
educational landscape, which appears to be a much stronger force in the
development of teacher identity than national educational policies.

Keywords: educational change; ethnography; narrative inquiry; symbolic
interactionism; teacher identity

South African Journal of Education Vol. 28 (1) 2008: pp. 91-102

AJOL African Journals Online