Changing the discourse: self-cultivation for a sustainable teaching profession
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date30/07/2023
Teaching is multifaceted and complex; a plethora of activities, roles and emotional elements, a huge pressure of expectation and an increasing degree of tension surrounding its central debates (Cochran-Smith, 2004; Labaree, 2000). Current levels of attrition in the teaching profession are high (Purcell et al, 2005; Hanushek, 2007; Ingersoll & Smith, 2003; Menter, 2002; Menter, Hutchings & Ross, 2002) and have been steadily increasing, prompting calls for an increased focus on retention. Research often focuses on why teachers leave the profession, at times exploring strategies for rectifying these issues (Day & Gurr, 2014). Perhaps it is necessary however to change the discourse of the profession. Teaching has long been viewed as a ‘calling’, involving service and sacrifice (Higgins, 2011; Hargreaves & Fullan, 2012) and the success of a teacher often depends only on the examination successes of their students. This idea of teachers as instruments, existing only for others, pinpoints a central dichotomy; whether it is possible for teachers to exist for themselves and for others or whether there must always be a choice. It is offered that teachers do not have to choose; self-cultivation, involving a commitment to being open to the ongoing learning that a process of ‘flourishing’ and ‘becoming’ might involve, is therefore a compelling concept.As part of this partly philosophical and partly empirical thesis, I offer further conceptualisation and exploration of self-cultivation, within a philosophical context, drawing on literature focusing on Professional Ethics and Bildung. I ask why self-cultivation is a proper concern, specifically for teachers, and explore what the discussion around teaching as a practice can offer to this concept. The empirical aspect of the study is qualitative in nature and in the methodology section I present and consider my ontological and epistemological stance, and my choice to take an autoethnographic approach. I go on to present findings from 17 semi-structured interviews focusing on the storied experiences of committed teachers, in addition to a series of autoethnographic ‘vignettes’. In the discussion, I focus on the links between the themes that emerged from the data, drawing on the significance of emotions and emotional labour. I position self-cultivation within other discourses of teaching and conclude that self-cultivation is individual, complex and inextricably linked to many school and non school related issues and factors, deeply related to school culture, and linked to teachers’ initial motivation. Finally, I propose that if we are to improve retention levels in teaching, we must look toward providing means, opportunity and encouragement for teachers to be self-cultivating in their own right.