Education as a coercive process: Stories of confusion and (mis)communication in teacher narratives.

This paper will explore one of the emerging themes from doctoral research investigating teacher stress. The research is being undertaken using narrative inquiry methodology and involves multiple interviews with individuals working or recently working in education. The first round of interviews, with 5 individuals, took place in the autumn term of 2016, and focused on collecting narratives about working in an education system that is in flux, with problems of teacher retention and recruitment dominating popular media and policy. The narratives reflect accounts of excessive surveillance and accountability, as noted by Page (2015) and Roberts-Holmes and Bradbury, (2016), in addition to reports of increasing coercion and confusion, where changes to working practices are often quick, unmanaged and covertly enforced, resulting in a lack of clarity and general uncertainty. The impact on the individual teacher is that they report feeling undermined, undervalued and vulnerable. The effect of this on an individual’s agency is that their sense of self becomes compromised and their belief in their performance as an effective teacher is undermined.
Squire et al. (2008) note that narrative inquiries can help individuals to narrate their experiences and lead what Clandinin & Connelly (1996) call ‘storied lives’; resulting in a reinforced level of agency that re-positions the individual in the centre of their own story. As Caduri (2013, p.49) notes “human activity is never conducted in a vacuum, but rather within norms, ideas and values, that are constantly being shaped by culture, language, history and tradition.” Teachers lives are currently being shaped by constantly changing policy, both on a local and national level and, because of this, the stories that they exist within are sometimes unfamiliar, so that instead of feeling part of their own narrative, they are alienated from it. As Archer (2000, p9) noted, personal identity and a sense of self emerges from the individual’s immediate environment and when that environment is unstable, then individual agency is vulnerable.
This paper suggests that interpreting the responses of teachers within a Wittgensteinian perspective and, in particular, his notion of language-games, can help us to develop a better understanding of why education is becoming coercive, rather than collaborative or cooperative. In this early stage of research, the importance of teacher agency, effective communication and working relationships are highlighted.