"What is going on here?" Challenges experienced by white teachers in a government school in a remote Aboriginal community

Egan, Tracey Anne (2018) "What is going on here?" Challenges experienced by white teachers in a government school in a remote Aboriginal community. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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As practitioners at the coalface, teacher voices are critical in conversations about how to improve persistent abysmal education outcomes for remote Aboriginal students. Yet, despite significant interest and research conducted by educators, academics, government and influential others, teacher voices are resoundingly silent. Foregrounding non- Indigenous teachers in situ, this critical ethnographic study sought to identify challenges experienced by primary teachers in a remote Aboriginal community school and ascertain why challenges to teacher practice endure. The site of this study was a government school in a very remote Aboriginal community, where the teachers, including the researcher/practitioner, were white. Eighteen teachers including the researcher, from a possible 19, participated in the two and a half year study. Six preservice teachers, with support from their families, constituted the advisory group concerning Aboriginal practices in the community.

Teacher practice is critical to student academic achievement (Hattie, 2009). Yet, despite an abundance of funding, research and public critique of Indigenous education, teacher practice fails to deliver the desired student academic outcomes (ACARA, 2016f). This study is premised on a belief there is more going on at the borderline between the institution of education and the Aboriginal community than inadequate teacher practice. This study foregrounds non-Indigenous teacher voice as one voice that is critical to finding out what is going on in this remote Aboriginal community school.

This critical ethnographic study utilised the theoretical lens of Third Space (Bhabha, 1994) to identify the school as an "in-between" Space in which educators from the dominating institution of education and Aboriginal clans from the local community meet at the borderline of each other's culture. Third Space theory conceives of two different cultural groups, such as non-Aboriginal teachers and the Aboriginal community, as being from two different Spaces. From the teachers' perspective, the First Space is the institution of education and the Second Space is the remote Aboriginal community comprising Aboriginal clans. The First Space is most familiar to the teacher while the Second Space is, for most teachers, foreign. Bhabha (1994) recognises the borderline as an enunciative Space in which talk happens between people including "discussion, dispute, concession, apology and negotiation" (Bhabha, 1994, p. x). A Third Space is a hybrid Space of both First Space and Second Space that is unrecognisable as belonging to either one or the other. Rather, the Third Space is a coconstructed composition of both. In the construction of the Third Space, members from both groups actively destabilise "the unequal and uneven forces of cultural representations" (Bhabha, 1994, p. 245). The shape of contemporary Aboriginal education requires consideration of the historical coloniser/colonised relationship that continues to influence government and Aboriginal clan relationships (Nakata, 2007).

In its current form, the school is unable to address challenges experienced by teachers because the government continues to dominate the social arrangements within the school. Obligated to practice according to institutional demands, teachers find themselves in "borderline engagements of cultural difference" (1994, p. 3) caught between institutional demands and practices and those of Aboriginal students, local employees and families that originate in clan social orders and arrangements.

Third Space theory complements critical ethnography because they both contest existing norms and "move from 'what is' to 'what could be'" (Madison, 2012, p. 5). Data were collected from researcher observations, conversations with teachers during day-to-day teacher practice and a semi-structured group interview involving all participants. Teachers' accounts of contradiction, confusion and conflict provided insight into the conditions contributing to the challenges affecting their practice. Kemmis, McTaggart and Nixon's "Practice Architectures" framework (2014, p. 81) was utilised to delve deeply into teacher sayings, doings and relatings to identify the cultural-discursive, material-economic and social-political arrangements that shape and are shaped by teacher practice. With a 'sense of what could be', this study identified the conditions currently holding teacher practice in place, practice resulting in student academic failure.

The research found adverse home conditions preclude teacher effectiveness and the institution's regulation of schools and teachers undermines teacher effectiveness at the borderline. Further, the institution's interpretation of 'schooling' locates teachers in the middle of a tug-of-war of legitimacy between the institution and local clans.

In its current form, education in this remote Aboriginal community is untenable for both the community and the teachers. Many challenges reported by teachers have been repeatedly highlighted in the literature in academic research, government reports and documents produced by Indigenous leaders; however, the emphasis is mostly placed on Indigenous people. Challenges experienced by Indigenous people in remote communities are presented as detrimental to Indigenous people with little consideration to the service providers, including teachers, whose practice is also affected by the same challenges. This study shows that the current shape of schooling in this remote Aboriginal community is problematic for students AND teachers rather than the current intimation of being problematic BECAUSE OF teachers. Teachers are unable to perform their duties to teacher and institution satisfaction because the institution's insistence of dominance has led to the school being a battleground between two different cultures. In the middle of the battleground, teachers are accused of being the main perpetrator of poor education for Aboriginal students.

As a matter of urgency, this study highlights the need for the school to become a Third Space, a "Space of intervention in the here and now" (Bhabha, 1994, p. 10). 'What is' cannot continue because it is failing both teachers and students and their respective first Spaces, the institution of education and the local Aboriginal community. The school needs to be reconstructed by institution and community leaders as a Third Space to tackle the entrenched challenges reported by teachers. Challenges described by teachers in this study need to be heard in discussions that create new arrangements.

Item ID: 63818
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: primary education, Aboriginal education, remote Aboriginal communities, ethnographic studies, non-Aboriginal teachers, teacher development, Third Space theory
Copyright Information: Copyright © 2018 Tracey Anne Egan.
Date Deposited: 20 Jul 2020 22:55
FoR Codes: 13 EDUCATION > 1301 Education Systems > 130105 Primary Education (excl Maori) @ 40%
13 EDUCATION > 1303 Specialist Studies in Education > 130301 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education @ 40%
16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1608 Sociology > 160803 Race and Ethnic Relations @ 20%
SEO Codes: 93 EDUCATION AND TRAINING > 9302 Teaching and Instruction > 930202 Teacher and Instructor Development @ 50%
93 EDUCATION AND TRAINING > 9399 Other Education and Training > 939901 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education @ 50%
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