Teachers’ work and working teachers: Working in times of uncertainty

NRF-funded research project

Principal investigator: Dr Nyna Amin

School of Education

One of the most critical challenges facing South Africa in the post-apartheid era is how to prepare teachers for the complexities and challenges they may face in the work situation because the educational landscape has undergone dramatic changes in the previous decade. The new paradigm takes for granted a well-established educational infrastructure and a professionally trained teacher supply base. It does not take into account the different levels of complexity in which new policies emerge in postcolonial societies. It also does not adequately account for the unequal educational contexts that were inherited from apartheid. Furthermore, teachers have been portrayed one-dimensionally over time, e.g. villains and failures; liberators; agitators; and victims, amongst others: each descriptor reflecting the political ethos of each period. Undoubtedly, multidimensional images are required as teachers are important players in the system.

A research-informed platform, we argue, may offer the best way to produce counter-narratives to challenge the hegemony of pathologized perspectives of teachers over the past few years.  In view of the present situation in South Africa, this project proposed an exploration of multiple facets of teachers’ work in South Africa. Teachers’ work is a complex notion that veers from formal, official prescriptions of what has to be done in terms of enactments of roles and functions to unanticipated contingencies so that the work teachers do differs from school to school. Multiple methodologies, both qualitative and quantitative will be deployed, with a variety of methods (interviews, focus group interviews, artefacts, transect walks, work diaries and observations) to elicit data to capture the depth and breadth of the work teachers are doing and to influence teacher education programmes in ways that may make them relevant, coherent with the current landscape of education, and to prepare a cohort of teachers to cope with uncertainty, complexity and diversity.