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Understanding the Emotional Geographies of Singapore Teachers dealing with Students using Narrative Inquiry

Conference paper for the International Study Association on Teachers and Teaching (July 11) Presented by John Yeo and Fang Yanping

John Yeo

on 17 September 2011

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Transcript of Understanding the Emotional Geographies of Singapore Teachers dealing with Students using Narrative Inquiry

Understanding the Emotional Geographies of Singapore Teachers dealing with Students using Narrative Inquiry “Inquiry is driven by teachers’ inner desire to understand that experience, to reconcile what is known with that which is hidden, to confirm and affirm, and to construct and reconstruct understandings of themselves as teachers and of their own teaching.” (Johnson & Golombek, 2002, pp 6). John Yeo Fang Yanping yanping.fang@nie.edu.sg John.yeo@nie.edu.sg NARRATIVE INQUIRY Capturing the teachers’ voice / stories
Source for deliberation, intuitive & moral decisions
Personal knowledge with a practical function
Both as a process and product Research Tool & Medium for Professional Development
Conle, C. (2000) Conle, C. (2000). Narrative Inquiry: Research Tool and Medium for Professional Development. Dr Fang Yanping Yanping.fang@nie.edu.sg John Yeo John.yeo@nie.edu.sg Understanding the Emotional Geographies of Singapore Teachers dealing with Students using Narrative Inquiry “Inquiry is driven by teachers’ inner desire to understand that experience, to reconcile what is known with that which is hidden, to confirm and affirm, and to construct and reconstruct understandings of themselves as teachers and of their own teaching.”

Johnson & Golombek, 2002 33 S'pore school teachers
8 males and 25 females
Ave years in service = 11.12
Youngest- 4 years
Most experience - 23 years
29 different schools
13 Primary school teachers
19 Secondary school teachers
1 JC teacher Singapore rated as one of the top performing educational systems that recruits some of the best teachers Few studies done to explore how Singapore teachers cope with the emotional work of teaching Hargreaves (2000) noted “the disturbing neglect of the emotional dimension in the increasingly rationalized world of educational reform” For this paper-
Challenges of managing different types of relationships between teachers and students Examines the emotional geographies of individual teachers managing teacher-student relationship articulated from their NI Captures the emotional understanding gained from the critical experiences that helped the teachers to learn more about themselves Teaching students who are different from themselves Finding a moral compass to the calling Bridging the physical geographies Importantly, emotional engagement and understanding in schools require strong, continuous relationships between teachers and students so they learn to `read' each other over time. (Hargreaves, 2000, pp 815) Mismatch of academic learning background between teachers and students --> teachers teaching students in lower streams
Creating difficulties in understanding as well as arousing cases of caring and helping disadvantaged students to learn
To promote emotional understanding towards their students --> Teachers try to narrow down the ‘sociocultural geographies' between students and teachers Teaching students who are different from themselves * Sociocultural geographies- where differences of culture and class can all too easily make teachers on the one hand and parents and students on the other, alien and unknowable to each other (Bernhard, 1999) Eastern heritage culture
teachers are endowed with authority as the sources of knowledge and power
students are expected to be obedient and good listeners (Fang & Gopinathan, 2008)
students who display resistant behaviors are taken as violating norms and rules and may subject themselves to punishment
Teachers face intensive emotional labor when confronting such students.

Teachers see themselves in unbridgeable ‘moral geographies’ with their students
Find it hard to condescend themselves to listen to the voices of these students
Yet, some find hope and harvested more emotional understanding when they managed to close such gaps. Finding a moral compass to the calling * Moral geographies- where teachers' purposes are at odds with those they serve and where there are no mechanisms to discuss or resolve these differences. (Oatley & Jenkins, 1996) Many teachers caught in running the race for raising examination scores
Find little or no time to attend to students as emotional and thinking beings
More often than not, their interactions with students and parents are distanced, creating ‘physical geographies’. Bridging the Physical Geographies * Physical geographies - where fragmented, infrequent, formalized and episodic encounters replace the possibility of relationships between teachers and students with strings of disconnected interactions (Lasky, 2000). MOE recruits one in every six applicants
Qualifications? Teachers are from the top 30% of their age cohort Singapore teachers - tasted academic success in their student days Students of diverse backgrounds, aptitudes, interests and learning styles Sociocultural geographies In Singapore... I found myself spending most of my time on marking and neglecting the more important subject – that is, the students. …I found that the students did not relate to me and I could not motivate some of them to improve their attitude and effort in their work. I felt emotionally and physically drained. ...phenomenon of the ‘emo’ (pessimistic and depressive) pupils is prevalent .....
many of my pupils who are stressed, have low self-esteem and they vented their frustration by self-inflicting pain.

It is not surprising that they are not interested in Mathematics or English. "Culture Shock" “I tried to shout again but I was shaking and trembling uncontrollably… I was an adult and yet I could not handle thirty eight year old children” Trauma "I was afraid to teach…. they did anything but pay attention to my lesson" Fear “I can still remember the hurt that I felt then. It wasn’t a loss of face but rather, my dream of becoming a good teacher was totally shattered.” Shattered dreams Purpose of teaching: to touch lives, ignite zeal for learning, and fuel hopes and dreams. (MOE, 2007) "(My) comments provoked the “meanest” boy in the class, X, to want to fight with me, saying that I had no right to insult them.
I was shocked, followed by more anger that someone would actually threaten my authority as a teacher." "... I believe my apology forged the first and strongest bridge that slowly mended our relationship." Reflecting deeper, I felt ashamed. Stigmatisation of the 'Tail-end' classes Finding a deeper sense of connection to the psychic rewards of mediating between the sociocultural difference Rescuing students who were neglected or abused at home Helping a child to seek professional care and treatment from sexual assault Creating engaging teaching resources to help students become more motivated to learn Helping a student who returned from Boys Home to once again believe in himself Allowing boy punched the teacher to make peace with herself years later ‘Gifted students – a misunderstood race?’ They (children in gifted classes) thrive on embarrassing their teachers and reducing them to tears to prove that they are the stronger race. X antagonises on purpose to get a reaction from his teachers and peers on a daily basis. He will purposely be defiant towards teachers in school to challenge their authority with the intent of creating chaos ... Is it also fair to his teachers when the emotional hard work we put in reaps little effort on his part to improve? I have to look beyond to see that the child in front of me wants to be acknowledged and accepted as a child, not just as a smart kid labelled “gifted”. Stepping into a child’s reality requires making a conscious decision "Perhaps I have not tried to understand the students enough because I do not come from that kind of background and I cannot identify with their experiences." "I have been using my lenses to look at their problems and using strategies that I see as applicable to them." … The students indeed were very different “Yes, you are right, I come from a neighbourhood secondary school, just like you.” "...none of the teachers understand the life of a neighbourhood secondary school boy… since you all are up there; we all bottom one!” We used the narrative inquiry to encourage teachers to perceive greater congruency between the curriculum reform cultures by requiring them to reflect on their own practice, and articulate their understanding in an increasingly critical light. "However, with such a system of ranking and over-emphasis on results, it removes the joy of teaching. Teaching becomes mechanical, using often the tested formulas for good results. Any move to try new innovative strategies was under scrutiny in case a wrong move would bring down the results." "I wonder if the culture of academic excellence in our education system provides the best for our students. Is the system too rigid? …

I feel that the active process of imparting values to our students is even more important than coaching them to score A1s for their exams." "Have we been so engrossed in our pursuit of our A*s that we were unable to detect X’s unhappiness?
Or was X only willing to show us his indifferent attitude as we had not really tried to understand him as an individual and our focus had always been on academic performance? What students present to us in school are what they want us to know about them and that is only one façade visible to us." Choosing between serving the psychological and social needs of the child versus meeting the competitive demand of ensuring their charges perform well academically, often requires the teacher themselves to take a stand. Singapore - one of the top performing educational systems in the world ??? Yet, our findings showed that most of the teachers reflected on the lack of support and guidance to reconcile the high expectations of the profession to the complex work of caring for the students, individually. Teachers’ narratives weaved in their thoughts, emotions and dilemmas that help to bridge psychological and social perspectives on their teacher identity. Teachers' NI- help deepen an inquiry stance by creating for themselves opportunities to interrogate their practice Construction of knowledge-in-practice helped them articulate their struggle of balancing the act of teaching They feel hopeless and sad. To them, school is pointless and life is depressing. McKinsey Report (2007) Hargreaves' (2000) Mixed emotions: teachers' perceptions of their interactions with students Conceptual Framework:
Adopts a social-constructionist and contextualized view of emotion in teachers' work and interaction with others Mixed
Emotions Emotional Intelligence Emotional labor Emotional Understanding Conceptual Framework Moral Physical Professional Emotional Geographies Political Socio-cultural Fragmented, infrequent,formalized and episodic encounters replace possibility of relationships;
strings of disconnected interactions Hierarchical power relationships distort the emotional as well as cognitive aspects of communication Teacher professionalism --> 'classical' masculine model of the professions; creates distance between teachers and the clients Teachers' purposes are at odds with those they serve; little or
no mechanisms to discuss or resolve these differences differences of culture and class can all too easily 'alienate' teachers from others E. competence, E. literacy &
E. intelligence EI- Express one's emotions, manage one's moods, empathize with the emotional states of others, motivate oneself and others, and exercise a wide range of social skills Acknowledges culturally different forms of
emotionality; Embeds emotion in the
politically contested interactions Manufacture or mask their emotions Creating & sustaining dynamic, engaging lesson--> requires hard emotional work, investment, or labor. Managing one's mood Pleasurable and rewarding; Pursue personal purposes E. labor of working with parents - peripheral to their work; ambivalent relationship of power Past emotional experiences; read emotional responses; emotional misunderstanding;misread their students' learning; Require strong, continuous relationships between Tr and ss; Fostered or frustrated by school structures and priorities
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