Being with difference: teachers' experience in the primary classroom

Wright, S 2008, Being with difference: teachers' experience in the primary classroom, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Education, RMIT University.

Document type: Thesis
Collection: Theses

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Title Being with difference: teachers' experience in the primary classroom
Author(s) Wright, S
Year 2008
Abstract The experience of 'being with difference' is becoming an increasingly important worldwide phenomenon. The transnational movements of people across the globe, as well as tensions arising from religious and political differences, are highlighting the urgent need for people to learn to recognize and negotiate their being with difference. In recent years the Australian media has reflected growing interest on issues concerning identity and national values. These issues are invariably translated into the educational system and then into the classroom. In this context there arises the tension between recognizing and responding to individual difference yet, on the other hand, a push for sameness under the rubric of social equality. Diversity as an objective phenomenon has received much attention in the educational literature however the experience of a teacher being with difference in t he classroom and what a teacher experiences as 'being different' has been assumed and the meanings they make of their experiences largely ignored.

The purpose of this hermeneutic phenomenological study was to reveal and interpret the lived experiences of teachers being with difference, as they construct the phenomenon, in the context of the primary classroom. Data sources predominantly included extended face-to-face multiple interviews with thirteen teachers from primary schools situated in Melbourne, Australia. Personal experiences, as well as perspectives derived from a range of literature, were also employed. The collated texts revealed six dominant themes: [1] Disrupted by difference [2] Stimulated by difference [3] Engineering for difference [4] Labelling for difference [5] Awakened by difference; and [6] Sensitized by difference. Each theme was explicated using a variety of textual approaches to better understand the structures of meanings. Essentially, the phenomenon, as revealed by the participating teachers, suggests that difference in the classroom is constructed through teachers' own cultural and experiential lenses and interpreted according ly. Two particular implications arising from the study are discussed. The first concerns teachers 'growing children to be like me' and the second, the magnetism of difference and its implication for children perceived as 'ordinary'. The implication of these findings suggests that 'being with difference' presents fundamental challenges for teachers who must not only accommodate novel experiences within their own teaching and personal lifeworlds and address those challenges within the procedural expectations of an educational system, but are also in a position to facilitate a literacy of being with difference.
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Institution RMIT University
School, Department or Centre Education
Keyword(s) Diversity, Cultural
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