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Perspektiv på lärares arbete och yrkesutveckling vid millennieskiftet

Ulf Lundström

Umeå universitet 2007, 281 s. diss. ISBN 9789172642782

The aim of this thesis is to contribute to knowledge about how the work and profession of upper secondary school teachers is understood and shaped by the teachers in the beginning of the 21st century, and to relate that understanding of work and professional development to the strivings of the teachers’ trade unions and the state. With the implementation of an innovation as a starting point, the teachers’ narratives also described their work in a broader sense. Connections and contradictions between those descriptions of everyday work are analysed in relation to central ideas in research and state and trade union policy. The empirical data were mainly generated through interviews and studies of state- and teachers’ trade union policy documents. Twenty-three teachers at four upper secondary schools were interviewed twice, with a one year interval. Five school leaders were also interviewed. A minor questionnaire added data concerning professional development. 102 documents published by the State and the teachers’ trade unions between 1964 and 2004 were analysed using critical discourse analysis.

The analysis is eclectic, drawing on perspectives and conceptions from theories on professions, organisations, school development and the frame factor theory. The overall approach of the study is practice related research and includes an intention to draw attention to connections between micro and macro levels.

The analyses of the teachers’ narratives on implementation indicate that they were able to do the job despite unsatisfactory conditions thanks to high work morale and extensive experience. The infrastructure provided by the frame factors was weak or working at cross purposes. The school-wide support for development was stronger at one of the four schools.

The teachers’ formal freedom of action was substantial. In practice it was restricted by frame factors and the fact that the potential freedom was not fully used. Thus, the actual autonomy was more limited than it appeared to be. The school culture included elements of balkanised and contrived collegiality. Many tasks were delegated to the interdisciplinary work teams, but the teams did not seem to live up to expectations. Primarily, they lacked time and an appropriate group composition. There was a clash between the interdisciplinary work teams and the teachers’ need to co-operate within subject work teams. The teachers did not regard interdisciplinary work teams as useful for school or professional development.

Supportive conditions for long-term, shared learning and dialogue between researchers and practitioners were largely lacking. Visions such as learning organisations were far removed from the everyday life in the schools. Changes in organisational structures at the schools have partly been counterproductive.

The far-reaching restructuring of the Swedish upper secondary schools implemented from the end of the 1980s and during the 1990s was in line with international reform trends. It also had specific national characteristics. The concept professional teachers was introduced in some Government bills around 1990. The teachers’ trade unions adopted the concept and it became increasingly significant in trade union policy during the 1990s. At the turn of the millennium it was a dominant idea in their documents.

During the 1990s several influential discourses became established as shared views between the State, trade unions and some researchers, e.g. what I have called change and professional discourses. They were rarely problematized in state and teachers’ trade union policy documents. The two agreements between the teachers’ trade unions and the employers, in 1995 and 2000, constituted another component of what has been termed a system-shift in the Swedish school system. They influenced the teachers’ working conditions and implied new strategies for the trade unions. The professional, change and management discourses salient in the documents were brought into schools with insufficient opportunities for the teachers to develop a deep meaning of the discourses.

The study emphasizes the importance of practice oriented studies, related to wider contexts, in order to provide insights into teachers’ work and professional development. It also brings nuances to, and problematizes theoretical conceptions and discourses in the field.

Key-words: teaching profession, upper secondary teachers, change, school reform, professional development, school development, frame factors, school governance, school policy, trade union