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Comparative Perspectives on Teachers as Citizens: Reflections from East Asia, Mexico, and the Middle East

Tue, March 27, 8:00 to 9:30am, Hilton Reforma, Floor: 4th Floor, Don Emiliano

Group Submission Type: Panel Session


This panel focuses on teachers, as individuals with a varied life experiences; as persons engaged in a professional task; and as citizens continuing their practices of citizenship in the workplace. While these roles may seem self-evident, education policy frequently assumes a more limited technician-like role, where teachers are interchangeable, and their life-experiences, beliefs and engagement with students appear irrelevant to policy-makers.
Traditionally, both quantitative and qualitative comparative research data gathering requires us to ask the same questions in different social settings. Here, we adopt an alternative approach. Drawing on Hansen’s (2017) concept ‘bearing witness’, each researcher presents the teacher’s world in a spirit of critical empathy, from classroom observation, teacher-researcher conversations, and/or the teacher’s own narrative. We seek to understand how the teacher sees their work in educating for citizenship, and why. Our overarching aim is to understand the teacher as citizen; how s/he supports students to engage as citizens and addresses questions of social justice.
We follow Hansen in not judging or approving/disapproving teachers’ work. By focussing on ‘the significance of the person in the role of teacher’ we emphasize ‘it is persons rather than roles who educate’ (Hansen, 2017: 9). The comparative element of our panel is to understand transnational commonalities and differences in teachers’ perceptions of work in enabling citizenship learning and how these perceptions are linked to teachers’ life-experiences, identities and self-understandings as citizens on the one hand, and to national policy frameworks on the other. This requires reflexive research processes: the researcher is exploring his/her own self-understanding and identities and their impact on the research.

• Promote debate between North American and international scholars on the potential of ‘bearing witness’ as a framework for comparative study of teachers’ lives;
• Explore how teachers construct meanings of citizenship and citizenship learning, in relation to policy rhetoric addressing democratic engagement;
• Investigate ways in which teachers relate to civil society to achieve professional goals;
• Reflect on ways in which ethical questions, including the realization of social justice, guide teachers’ professional practices;
• Apply the concept ‘bearing witness’ to everyday life in schools in diverse settings and consider how it might illuminate comparative citizenship education research.

Scholarly significance
The panel aims to deepen understandings of teachers as individual persons and offer new insights into citizenship teaching and learning. The teachers work in established democracies and post-conflict settings. Even in difficult contexts teachers may act autonomously and serve students. The concept of researcher-as-witness enables a comparative research endeavour that remains teacher-focused, not led by a pre-determined agenda. We are nevertheless guided by a focus on ethical practices, particularly teachers’ concerns for social justice/students’ rights.
The panel is innovative and exploratory, strengthening qualitative small-scale comparative citizenship education research by applying the common concept ‘bearing witness’. We centre the teacher as person and citizen; we observe practices; and apply critical empathy to teacher accounts, to grasp the complexities of teaching for citizenship in diverse settings. ‘Bearing witness’ permits nuanced understandings of teachers’ work. Our discussant will support researcher critical self-reflection and extend debate.
Hansen, D.T. (2017) Bearing witness to teaching and teachers, Journal of Curriculum Studies, 49:1:7-23.

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