Silent voices: a study of English teachers' responses to curriculum change
thesisposted on 28.03.2022, 22:50 by Kerry-Ann O'Sullivan
This thesis analyses the nature of the discourses and practices of English teachers as they implement major reform to a senior curriculum. The introduction in New South Wales, Australia, of a mandatory new Higher School Certificate syllabus in 2000 challenged the prevailing paradigms of the school subject and disturbed the existing beliefs and pedagogies of English practitioners. This period of change provides the historical context for the present investigation. A major focus of the study is the relationship between teachers’ discourses about curriculum change and their actual practices. Having presented its findings about that relationship, the thesis goes on to explore the implications for curriculum change theory. The study was developed predominantly within a qualitative framework through semi-structured interviews with fifteen teachers from a range of secondary schools from both the government and non-government systems in metropolitan and non metropolitan locations in New South Wales. The participants, who included eight Head Teachers of English and seven teachers of English, were identified using a purposive sampling technique and were chosen from self-selecting respondents to an initial statewide survey. The data-gathering techniques also included the collection of a unit of work prepared by each teacher for study in the HSC Standard English course. The theoretical perspectives of grounded theory, discourse analysis, and curriculum change informed the analysis of the data. Contradictions and ironies were found to be inherent in every aspect of the teachers’ discourses and practices. How the teachers perceived their implementation of the early stages of significant curriculum change was markedly at odds with their classroom actions. Paradoxically the more active the teachers became in trying to come to terms with curriculum change the further they seemed to enshrine and confirm the professional identities they had previously established. The study showed that the teachers’ impressions that they were implementing the new syllabus often concealed the fact that they were actually just adopting appearances of change. It is well recognised by theorists that it takes some time for teachers to absorb and adopt change. It is argued here, however, that because English teachers have extremely strong professional identities and subject values, the close alignment of these with their sense of self tends to make them highly resistant to change at any deep level. It would seem that for professional development to be successful in a situation of this kind much closer attention needs to be paid to teachers’ voices, and to how they view their subject and their sense of self in relation to it. It is only with this as a starting point that new paradigms and practices are likely to become firmly established.