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“I’m always the unusual one”: exploring the dialogic identities of male primary teachers

Woodfine, Corinne Sarah (2018) “I’m always the unusual one”: exploring the dialogic identities of male primary teachers. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

During the past two decades, there has been a drive towards the recruitment of primary teachers from diverse backgrounds and experiences, including more men. Nevertheless, in 2016, 85% of teachers working in primary and nursery settings were female (DfE, 2017a), more men drop out of teacher training than women, although proportionally more are found in school leadership roles (DfE, 2017a). In order to bring meaning to teacher workforce statistics, research directs focus to male primary teachers’ identities, claiming that dominant discourses pressurise men to display typical masculine behaviour within a feminised environment. The discourse positions men as ‘high flyers’, legitimising their career choice and swift promotion into management – by presenting them as role models for problematic boys, or as vulnerable in the workplace, struggling with a negative discourse that places them under scrutiny. This thesis adds to our understanding of men’s experience in the female-dominated space of the primary school through an exploration of the identity development and enactment of a group of male students as they progress from their final undergraduate year leading to qualified teacher status into their first year of teaching and beyond. Framing their narratives of becoming a teacher within Holland et al.’s (1998) theory of ‘Figured Worlds’, this thesis moves beyond assumption of fixed identities and performances that are determined by dominant gender discourses towards an emphasis on the dialogic nature of identity development: an ongoing ‘self-in-practice’. It explores how the culture of the primary school is characterised by particular figures and values, where dominant discourses and narratives of self - make available and legitimise particular positional identities and performances for male teachers. I argue that when men first enter primary schools they demonstrate resistance to their discursive positioning as ‘unsuitable’, negotiating hegemonic masculine discourse in order to reposition themselves as a successful teacher and valued male role model. However, over a time-frame of three years, my participants were able to create nuanced dialogic responses to their position within the primary school environment, beginning to disrupt prevailing discursive identities, and form their “own opinions” about what it means to be a male primary teacher.

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