University of Sussex
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Where do history teachers come from? Professional knowing among early career history teachers

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posted on 2023-06-07, 15:43 authored by Simon ThompsonSimon Thompson
The Training and Development Agency for Schools continue to set an official agenda for what constitutes professional knowledge for teachers in England. The Professional Standards for Teachers (TDA, 2007) set out expectations regarding attributes, knowledge and understanding and skills for teachers at different stages in their careers. Such prescriptions have been the subject of critique by the academic community (Furlong, 2001, Phillips, 2002, Ellis, 2007) for their implicit reductionist assumptions about professional knowledge. History teacher educators (John, 1991, Husbands et al, 2003) have long recognised the need to focus on what history teachers do know, rather than what they should know. However whilst scholarship offers us rich understandings of those considered experts (Turner-Bisset, 1999) or engaged in initial teacher education (Pendry, Husbands, Arthur and Davison, 1998), little is known about the professional knowledge of early career history teachers. This study explores professional knowing of early career history teachers working in secondary schools in South East England. Through presenting twelve case studies of teachers at the end of initial teacher education, induction, experiencing the first two to three years of teaching and more experienced practitioners the study analyses the nature of professional knowing as well as its interrelations, origins and development. Two research questions are addressed: • What do beginning history teachers know? How does this relate to existing models of professional knowledge? • Where does their professional knowledge come from? What are its origins? What factors influence its development? The study draws upon a constructivist interpretation of professional knowing (Cochran et al, 1993) rejecting the static nature of knowledge and instead presents knowing as a dynamic entity. The study also draws upon Eraut's (1996, 2007) epistemology of practice, specifically the interplay between context, time and modes of cognition and reflection as well as conceptions of teaching as a craft (Cooper and McIntyre, 1996). In addition, the study acknowledges the nature of situated learning and identifies how early career teachers develop within different communities of practice (Lave and Wenger, 1991). Inspired by life history research, a mixed methodology is used to examine how childhood experiences, schooling and pre-professional education combine with formal and situated learning. Interviews exploring “critical incidents” (Tripp, 1994) are used to encourage participants to reflect and associated narratives are analysed using a constructivist conceptualisation of grounded theory (Charmaz, 2005), to reveal the temporal and spacial dimensions (Clandinin and Connelly, 2000) of professional knowing as well as broader “genealogies of context” (Goodson and Sykes, 2001) telling of changes in history education over the last three decades. The findings illustrate how early career history teachers draw upon their knowing of history, pedagogy, resources, learners and context as well as their beliefs and values. Whilst it will be shown that these areas of knowing can be described and illustrated discretely, they work in complex ways with each other and decisions, actions or reflections often necessarily draw upon complex inter- relationships. Whether intuitively or deliberatively, these ways of knowing are developed through interactions between personal historical forces, learning situations and shifting professional contexts. Drawing on these findings the thesis makes an original contribution in presenting a new model of professional knowing connecting historical, pedagogical, curriculum knowing, knowing about learners, the context, and ideological knowing with teacher reflectivity; all situated in an envelope that recognises the roots, complexity and fluidity of what history teachers know including personal histories, formal and informal learning experiences and their environments.


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