Deakin University
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Firsts: performing ways first year teachers experience identity transformation

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posted on 2013-10-01, 00:00 authored by M Ludecke
This thesis reports on research showing the survival discourse of beginning teaching has shifted from sink or swim metaphors to describe surviving transition shock and classroom management concerns to surviving contract employment. Beginning teachers are neither sinking nor swimming in this liminal state. Rather, it is as though they are on a lifeboat where they cannot feel like a ‘real’ teacher until they can operate with certainty.

Interrogating the experiences of beginning teachers, and the transformation of their identity in their first year (1yr) of teaching, the thesis explores research participants’ firsts as epiphanic or revelatory moments of identity transformation. Participants were followed for three years from upon completion of their teacher education, through their first year of teaching, up to the beginning of their third year in the profession. The major finding was that while contemporary understandings of professional identity highlight the transformative nature of the phenomenon,  contract employment had the most impact on these teachers’ identity transformation.

Teachers’ perceptions of their own professional identity affect their efficacy and professional development as well as their ability and willingness to cope with educational change (Beijaard, Verloop & Vermunt 2000). It has been reported by the Australian Education Union (AEU) and in the Victorian media in recent years that up to 50% of beginning teachers are leaving the profession within their first five years. The reasons given for this level of
attrition include workload, pay, and behaviour management, among the top concerns of beginning teachers. These categories have positioned beginning teachers in a survival discourse for many years, yet there is more to beginning teachers’ intentions to leave than their struggles to survive in the classroom. More recently in Victoria what it means to ‘survive’ has shifted to surviving the pervasive contractual nature of beginning teachers’
employment conditions.

This qualitative study seeks to question what remains concealed with regard to beginning teachers’ experiences through an investigation of the differences between and within individuals, allowing categories of description to emerge from the data rather than pre-determining categories of investigation. Data was collected from twelve participants through individual semi-structured interviews and written communication. A theatre-based research approach to representing the participants’ experiences was employed, culminating in a performance titled ‘The First Time’. The processes of scripting, rehearsing, and performing, were utilised to analyse and represent the data to expert audiences. In an aim to uncover questions that have been buried by answers, the research is oriented as a
phenomenographic inquiry. This mode of inquiry seeks to describe, analyse, and understand (Marton 1981) the qualitatively different experiences 1yr teachers undergo in their identity formation and transformation.

The results of this research reveal the destabilising effect of short-term contracts so prevalent in the current context; that status and belonging are central to 1yr teachers’ identity work. Status and belonging are positioned within survival, liminal, and hegemonic discourses; and expressed through artefacts as symbols of belonging. The low status ascribed to contractual work has a clear impact on beginning teachers’ commitment to the profession.



357 p. : illustrations, photographs : bibliographical references

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  • Yes

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Research doctorate

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The author


J O'Mara, J O'Loughlin, D Mayer


Faculty of Arts and Education


School of Education