The ways of knowing teachers in the Education Revolution : a history of the “teacher quality” present

  • Robyn Saunders

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    My thesis contributes to the body of research that is attempting to understand teacher quality and professionalism in an era of increased measurement and accountability. My focus is to understand how teachers came to be known as objects of their quality in the policy reforms of the Education Revolution in Australia (2007–2013). I borrow the Foucauldian concept of a ‘history of the present’ to articulate my research aim: to diagnose the why and how of this teacher quality present, and to explore how this present might have been, and still could be, otherwise.
    To achieve my overarching research aim, I address two research provocations. The first is, through what forms of rationality and historical conditions has the teacher become known as an object of quality in this present? To address this provocation, I assemble an archive of texts which I analyse using Foucault’s rules of discursive formation. My archaeological analysis unveils a teacher quality discourse which has (re)produced a particular way of knowing teachers as objects of quality, contributing to the nation’s economic productivity through the test scores which they can harvest from their students. This economistic way of knowing teachers is, however, masked because of the way the Education Revolution reforms appropriate discourses of professionalism. The foremost example is the national set of teacher professional standards, developed and mandated by policy. I show how these Australian Professional Standards for Teachers work as a vehicle for quality assurance to the public and as a means of regulation, control and accountability for policy.
    My second research provocation is, at what price can teachers speak the truth about themselves in this present? To address this provocation, I analyse the way in which teachers know themselves and their work, as articulated to me in conversations I had with a fairly typical group of 12 primary school teachers in three Canberra primary schools. These teachers know themselves through discourses of care, with their professional pride stemming from their pedagogical prowess and social responsibility. These teachers are resistant to the regulatory reforms mandated by policy. They show hostile compliance to registration and indifference to, if not deliberate ignorance of, the professional standards. I conclude that the teacher quality discursivity, productive of ways of knowing teachers in the reforms of the Education Revolution targeting teachers, is not productive in the ways that these teachers know themselves, their work or their professionalism.
    I contribute to academic research through my diagnosis of the teacher quality present as characterised by an epistemic gap between the ways of knowing teachers in the Education Revolution’s policies and the ways of knowing in the classroom. Additionally, I use a notion of epistemic injustice from Fricker (2007) which, to date, has seen little utility in educational research. I argue that an injustice is wrought on primary school teachers because of this epistemic gap. I am guided by Foucault’s genealogy as tactic to explore the price that teachers may pay by attempting to speak their truths across this gap. Together, these perspectives alert me to teachers’ ways of knowing, their ways of subverting, resisting or carrying the seeds of discursive insurrection against the ways that teachers are known in the Education Revolution, such that the present could well be otherwise.
    In addition to contributing new thinking about teachers, policy and quality, my research demonstrates the potential of using Foucault’s rules of discursive formation as methods to analyse the ‘political’, and it shows the critical potentialities of genealogy as tactic in analysing the ‘local’. Finally, my research establishes the utility of Fricker’s notion of epistemic injustice adding an important ethical dimension to research scenarios which set the political against the local.
    Date of Award2019
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorKathryn Moyle (Supervisor), Affrica Taylor (Supervisor) & Steve Shann (Supervisor)

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