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South African Journal of Education

Print version ISSN 0256-0100

Abstract

SMIT, Brigitte  and  FRITZ, Elzette. Understanding teacher identity from a symbolic interactionist perspective: two ethnographic narratives. S. Afr. j. educ. [online]. 2008, vol.28, n.1, pp. 91-101. ISSN 0256-0100.

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.

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