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Collaboration and constraint : women elementary teachers’ political identity formations Sirna, Karen Margaret

Abstract

This study examines tensions in female elementary teachers’ political identity constructions as social agents. It focuses on teachers’ experiences with discourses and structures in social fields and analyzes the ways these influence their capacity to practice from principles of social justice. A collective case study of four elementary teachers was used to explore the ways contexts influenced identity formation. Specifically, over a six month period I interviewed, observed, and gathered artefacts regarding four elementary teachers and the conditions in which they worked. I spent one day per week shadowing each teacher. The data were analyzed using socio-cultural, feminist, and political theories, within and across cases. Themes were generated from open coding along with constant comparison. This iterative process enabled examination of nuances and tensions both within and between the cases. The findings indicate that teachers construct ambivalent identities and individual notions of agency through their engagements in societal and educational fields. The gendered and dominant neo-liberal agendas permeating society are embodied in the teachers and influence their understandings of ’self’, agency, and change. As such, change is recognized as an individual process and thus, institutional structures are left unquestioned. However, I also found that collaboration offered teachers opportunities to construct themselves against dominant neo-liberal and gendered agendas. In this space, teachers were able to foster active trust, and in turn, question assumptions and practices in constructing themselves as social agents. As such, generative momentum emerges and supports teachers in understanding themselves as social agents. I suggest theories informing teaching for social justice ought to consider the enduring constructions of passive bodies that women teachers carry, and that society perpetuates, and the ways these may influence uneven actions for justice. The teachers’ ambivalent identity formations offer a way to explore how reflections can lead to identities that act to reshape the field. In addition, I argue that teacher education ought to increase: (1) conversations about the ways neo-liberalism and gendered constructions permeate society and education to influence identities and practice: and (2) opportunities for teachers’ collaborative inquiry that explores taken-for-granted assumptions and supports political identity formation as social agents.

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