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Early career casual teachers: Negotiating professional identity in multiple communities of practice

Dempsey, Helen (2017) Early career casual teachers: Negotiating professional identity in multiple communities of practice. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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The aim of this research was to explore the experiences of Early Career Casual Teachers (ECCTs) and how their professional identities are negotiated and constructed in multiple communities of practice. Early career teachers are increasingly beginning their teaching careers in casual employment (Bita, 2015; Bryan, 2015; K. Jenkins, 2013) and despite the increasing number of ECCTs, there is limited research regarding their experiences. The fragmented nature of casual teaching may also constrain negotiation and construction of a professional identity (Pietsch & Williamson, 2007).

This qualitative study was longitudinal in design and used a case study method. Participants were early career teachers who had been employed as day-to-day casual teachers, commonly referred to as “relief teachers” in Australia. There were two phases of the research conducted over an eighteen-month period. The first exploratory phase consisted of focus group discussions with ECCTs, and the second phase followed the journeys of six early career casual teachers gathering data through interviews and reflective tasks. Wenger’s (1998) communities of practice framework was adapted and used to investigate ECCTs’ experiences and professional identity negotiation and construction.

Relationships and engagement were found to be critical in the complex negotiation and construction of professional identity. Access to both school and professional communities was a major challenge reported by ECCTs. For some, prior engagement with a school community provided brokerage into the school community, and for others sustained engagement with a school community provided access to formal professional communities. In addition, developing strong relationships with students, colleagues and parents assisted ECCTs to develop deep connections with a school community and contributed to a sense of belonging. Professional identity was constructed through integration of personal and professional identity and was negotiated through experiences in both school and professional communities.

The research findings provide new insights for universities, education departments, professional authorities and schools in their endeavours to assist ECCTs as they negotiate and construct their professional identity, potentially enhancing commitment to the teaching profession.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Education
United Nations SDGs: Goal 4: Quality Education
Supervisor(s): Mansfield, Caroline, MacCallum, Judy and Pearce, Jane
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