Labour Studies Index

Updated: 2022-05-16

Discourses of Teacher Professionalism: A Study of Union-active Teachers

Document type Thesis
Author Osmond-Johnson, Pamela
Degree Ph.D., Leadership, Higher and Adult Education
Publisher University of Toronto; Toronto
Date 2015
Pages 214


This study presents a qualitative cross-case analysis of the discourses of teacher professionalism amongst union active teachers in the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Ontario. Data collection included interviews with 11 members of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario and 13 members from the Alberta Teachers’ Association, which were grounded in a document analysis of various reports, member magazines, news articles, and press releases dating back to the 1990s. The study reveals a triad of influences on the professionalism discourses of union-active teachers: engagement in teacher associations, the larger policy environment, and teacher agency. More specifically, participants’ inner drive to affect change, coupled with the capacity building experiences gained through their teacher association, saw many participants enacting and espousing discourses that positioned teachers as learners, leaders, advocates, and autonomous experts. That being said, member discourses were also impacted by the organizational priorities of their teacher associations and the extent to which the associations had been able to sway discourses within the larger policy environment to be supportive of teachers. These discursive influences are not static, however, nor are they mutually exclusive. Rather, a complex, mutually reinforcing relationship exists between these elements that change over time as teachers, their unions, and governments respond to each other in new and evolving ways. This results in discourses of teacher professionalism “from within” and “from without” that are more akin to two sides of the same coin than they are to the juxtaposed manner which they are often conceived of. In this way the study illustrates the power of teachers and their unions to alter the balance between democratic discourses which position teachers as advocates, agents, and policy actors; and neoliberal portrayals of teachers as the objects of educational reform.