Journal of Educational Change

, Volume 9, Issue 2, pp 101–121 | Cite as

The contrasting discourses in the professional lives of educators in Vancouver, Canada

  • Peter P. GrimmettEmail author
  • Diane Dagenais
  • Laura D’Amico
  • Marianne Jacquet
  • Roumi Ilieva


This study investigated the relationship between education policy changes and the working conditions of teachers and school leaders in Vancouver, Canada. We found that policy does shape educators’ discourse about their work conditions. This shaping manifested itself in the emotions teachers experience as they attempt to construct their identity as professional educators. Apparent contradictions emerged in educators’ discussions of their work conditions, particularly their contrasting reports of feeling satisfied with their working environment, yet concerned about issues related to workload and recognition. Two different discourses, the political and the professional, emerged at a deep level of practice. These discourses express conflicting emotions about teaching and teachers’ identity struggles in a context of rapid policy changes. The political discourse is framed around a partisan response to policy changes. The professional discourse focuses on engagement in satisfying educational activities. This study proffers a different conclusion to other studies implying a lack of understanding of practice by policy reformers. It suggests that, while teachers are very aware of policy changes, frequently engaging in a partisan critique thereof, they nevertheless temper that critique with a professional discourse shaped by pedagogical concerns in the local context. This concern with the classroom context enables them to focus their energies on constructing their sense of professional identity that frequently leads them to reinterpret policy initiatives from a local educator’s perspective. While the political discourse has trappings of despair, the professional–pedagogical contains glimpses of hope.


Policy change Professional lives Work conditions/concerns Educators’ emotions Educators’ discourses 



The research reported here was supported by a Major Collaborative Research Initiative (MCRI) grant for five years from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. The opinions expressed are those of the authors alone.


  1. Aronowitz, S., & Giroux, H. (1991). Postmodern education: Politics, culture, and social criticism. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  2. Ball, S. J. (1990). Politics and policy making in education. London, UK: Routledge.Google Scholar
  3. Ball, S. (2003). The teacher’s soul and the terrors of performativity. The Journal of Education Policy, 18(2), 215–228.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bascia, N. (2003). Triage or tapestry? Teacher unions’ work toward improving teacher quality in an era of systemic reform. Research report (document R-03-01). Center for the Study of Teaching and Policy, University of Washington.
  5. Berliner, D. C., & Biddle, B. J. (1995). The manufactured crisis: Myths, fraud, and the attack on America’s public schools. Redding, MA: Addison-Wesley.Google Scholar
  6. Bourdieu, P. (1972). Esquisse d’une théorie de la pratique, précédé de trois études d’ethnologie kabyle. Suisse: Librairie Droz.Google Scholar
  7. Brennan, R. (1995, September 13). Minister plotted “to invent a crisis.” Toronto Star.Google Scholar
  8. Bryk, A. S., Sebring, P. B., Kerbow, D., Rollow, S., & Easton, J. Q. (1998). Charting Chicago school reform: Democratic localism as a lever for change. Boulder, CO: Westview.Google Scholar
  9. Chan, A. S., Fisher, D., & Rubenson, K. (2004, July). Policy narrative for British Columbia (Project 2). Vancouver, BC: UBC. Current Trends in the Evolution of School Personnel in Canadian Elementary and Secondary Schools.
  10. Cohen, D. K., & Spillane, J. P. (1993). Policy and practice: The relationship between governance and instruction. In S. H. Fuhrman (Ed.), Designing coherent education policy: Improving the system (pp. 35–95). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  11. D'Amico, L., Dagenais, D., Grimmett, P., & Jacquet, M. (2004). British Columbia Regional Report, General Background Questionnaire (Questionnaire 1), Longitudinal Study of Teaching Agents (Project 4). Burnaby, BC: SFU, Current Trends in the Evolution of School Personnel in Canadian Elementary and Secondary Schools.
  12. Elkind, D. (1997). Schooling and family the postmodern world. In A. Hargreaves (Ed.), Rethinking educational change with heart and mind (pp. 27–42). Alexandria VA: ASCD.Google Scholar
  13. Elmore, R. F. (1996). Getting to scale with good educational practice. Harvard Educational Review, 66(1), 1–26.Google Scholar
  14. Firestone, W. A., & Mayrowetz, D. (2000). Rethinking “high stakes”: Lessons from the United States and England and Wales. Teachers College Record, 102, 724–749.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Firestone, W. A., & Pennell, J. R. (1993). Teacher commitment, working conditions, and differential incentive policies. Review of Educational Research, 63(4), 489–525.Google Scholar
  16. Fuhrman, S. (Ed.) (2001). From the capitol to the classroom: Standards-based reform in the states. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  17. Fuhrman, S. H., & Elmore, R. F. (1990). Understanding local control in the wake of state education reform. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 12(1), 82–96.Google Scholar
  18. Fullan, M. (1999). Change forces: The sequel. London, UK: Falmer Press.Google Scholar
  19. Giroux, H., & Simon, R. (1989). Popular culture, schooling, and everyday life. South Hadley, MA: Bergin & Garvey.Google Scholar
  20. Goddard, J. T. (2000). Teaching in turbulent times: Teachers’ perceptions of the effects of external factors on their professional lives. Alberta Journal of Educational Research, 46(4), 293–310.Google Scholar
  21. Grimmett, P. P. (1996). The struggles of teacher research in a context of education reform: Implications for instructional supervision. Journal of Curriculum and Supervision, 12(1), 37–65.Google Scholar
  22. Hargreaves, A. (1995) Development and desire: A postmodern perspective. In T. Guskey & M. Huberman (Eds.), Professional development in education: New paradigms and practices (pp. 9–34). New York: Teachers’ College Press.Google Scholar
  23. Hargreaves, A. (1997) Rethinking educational change: Going deeper and wider in the quest for success. In A. Hargreaves (Ed.), Rethinking educational change with heart and mind, The 1997 ASCD yearbook (pp. 1–26). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.Google Scholar
  24. Hargreaves, A. (2001). The emotional geographies of teaching. Teachers’ College Record, 103(6), 1056–1080.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Hart, D., & Livingstone, D. W. (1998). The “crisis” of confidence in schools and the neoconservative agenda: Diverging opinions of corporate executives and the general public. The Alberta Journal of Educational Research, 46(1), 1–19.Google Scholar
  26. Harvey, D. (1989). The condition of postmodernity. Oxford, UK: Basil Blackwell.Google Scholar
  27. Hatch, T. (2002). Incoherence in the system: Three perspectives on the implementation of multiple initiatives in one district. American Journal of Education, 109(4), 407–437.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Holland, D., Lachicotte, W., Skinner, D., & Cain, C. (1998). Identity and agency in cultural worlds. Boston, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  29. Jameson, F. (1991). Postmodernism and the cultural logic of late capitalism. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
  30. Knight, C. (1990). The making of Tory education policy in post-war Britain 1950–1986. London, UK: Falmer Press.Google Scholar
  31. Little, J. W. (1990). The persistence of privacy: Autonomy and initiative in teachers’ professional relations. Teachers College Record, 91, 509–536.Google Scholar
  32. Marion, R. (1999). The edge of organization: Chaos and complexity theories of formal social systems. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  33. Naylor, C. (2001). What do British Columbia teachers consider to be the most significant aspects of workload and stress in their work? Analysis of qualititative data from the BCTF Worklife of Teachers Survey Series, 1: Workload and Stress. Research report, Vancouver: BCTF.
  34. Pagano, J. (1990). Exiles and communities: Teaching in the patriarchal wilderness. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.Google Scholar
  35. Pelletier, L. G., Seguin-Levesque, C., & Legault, L. (2002). Pressure from above and pressure from below as determinants of teachers’ motivation and teaching behaviours. Journal of Educational Psychology, 94(1), 186–196.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Pinar, W., Reynolds, W. M., Slattery, P., & Taubman, P. M. (1995). Understanding curriculum. An introduction to the study of historical and contemporary curriculum discourses. New York: Peter Lang.Google Scholar
  37. QSR International (2002). N6 [Computer software]. Victoria, Australia: QSR International.Google Scholar
  38. Spillane, J. P. (1996). School districts matter: Local educational authorities and state instructional policy. Educational Policy, 10(1), 63–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Spillane, J. (2000). Cognition and policy implementation: District policy-makers and the reform of mathematics education. Cognition and Instruction, 18, 141–179.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Spillane, J. (2002). Local theories of teacher change: The pedagogy of district policies and programs. Teachers College Record, 104, 377–420.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Weick, K. (1976). Educational organizations as loosely coupled systems. Administrative Science Quarterly, 21, 1–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Wexler, P. (1990). Cultural change, science and the university. Artikkeleita, 21(2), 80–90.Google Scholar
  43. Whitson, J. A. (1991). Post-structuralist pedagogy as counter-hegemonic praxis (Can we find the baby in the bathwater?). Education and Society, 9(1):73–86.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter P. Grimmett
    • 1
    Email author
  • Diane Dagenais
    • 1
  • Laura D’Amico
    • 1
  • Marianne Jacquet
    • 1
  • Roumi Ilieva
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute for Studies in Teacher Education, Faculty of EducationSimon Fraser UniversityBurnabyCanada

Personalised recommendations