Shifting Sands. The Narrative Construction of Early Career Aboriginal Teachers' Professional Identities at the Cultural Interface

Doctoral Studies Completed Theses – 2014 Archive

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Catherine Burgess

PhD thesis, conferred 2014

This study explores issues facing early career Aboriginal teachers as they construct and enact their personal, professional and situated identities when learning to teach. Narrative constructions of identity simultaneously illuminate and challenge dominant discourses about Aboriginal teachers as they take up, resist and/or reject these discourses. The role of Aboriginality is mediated by factors such as lived experience, positioning of and by the teachers and school contexts. These issues are explored through the theoretical perspectives of Foucault, Bourdieu and Nakata. Like shifting sands, identity construction and teaching work can be unstable terrain, requiring complex contextualised understandings, skills and dispositions.

Participants are pre-service Aboriginal teachers in an away-from-base secondary Aboriginal Studies teacher education program at the University of Sydney. They are mature-aged with varying levels of experience of formal education and living in Aboriginal communities.

Using narrative methodology, eleven in-depth conversational interviews followed by two focus groups revealed emerging storylines and themes and four participants were identified for further interviews to collaboratively construct the final narratives. This approach privileged participant voices and created spaces to articulate the tacit knowledge and understandings that contribute to the development of a professional identity drawn from personal, professional, cultural and contextual sources.

Three themes emerged: discourses of Aboriginality, narratives of belonging, and conceptualising a pedagogical cultural identity. The implications of these themes bring focus to pre-service and in-service teacher professional learning based on valuing Aboriginal community engagement. When nurtured early in a teacher’s career, relationships serve a socio-cultural and political role that contribute significantly to the development of agentic and resilient identities at the cultural interface.

Supervisor: Professor Robyn Ewing