Following my post about #EduTwitter’s response to an advert placed on the TES Jobs website by a certain free school, I’ve been contemplating the messages that lie beneath the surface of the language used in advertisements for teaching vacancies. In this post, I’d like to begin a critical look at that language and, more importantly, the discourses that such language reflects.
Before I begin, I think it might be worth offering a definition of discourse. However, this isn’t so easy. To begin with, dictionary.com offers these definitions:
1.2.3. 4.5. 6.
It might seem that the most immediate definition of relevance to what I’m doing is #3, taken from linguistics: “any unit of connected speech of writing longer than a sentence”. Certainly, this is the definition used by Eduqas in its A Level English Language specification. However, it is definition #1 that holds more pertinence for me: “communication of thought”. But I do not want us to settle for that because it seems to imply the conscious, deliberate act of communicating a conscious and clear thought. The term discourse points to more than this. Unfortunately (or fortunately, I suppose, depending on your point of view), from an academic standpoint discourse doesn’t afford particularly easy definitions. A look at Wikipedia (yeah, I know, but I like it) reveals a number of schools or types of discourse analysis or discourse studies.
- discourse is a culturally constructed representation of reality, not an exact copy
- discourse constructs knowledge and thus governs, through the production of categories of knowledge and assemblages of texts, what it is possible to talk about and what is not (the taken for granted rules of inclusion/exclusion). As such, it re/produces both power and knowledge simultaneously
- discourse defines subjects framing and positioning who it is possible to be and what it is possible to do
- power circulates throughout society and, while hierarchised, is not simply a top-down phenomenon
- it is possible to examine regimes of power through the historicised deconstruction of systems or regimes of meaning-making constructed in and as discourse, that is to see how and why some categories of thinking and lines of argument have come to be generally taken as truths while other ways of thinking/being/doing are marginalised.
- What is being represented here as a truth or as a norm?
- How is this constructed? What ‘evidence’ is used? What is left out? What is foregrounded and backgrounded? What is made problematic and what is not? What alternative meanings/explanations are ignored? What is kept apart and what is joined together?
- What interests are being mobilised and served by this and what are not?
- How has this come to be?
- What identities, actions, practices are made possible and /or desirable and/or required by this way of thinking/talking/understanding? What are disallowed? What is normalised and what is pathologised?
A Note On Data Selection
I’m taking my examples from vacancies currently advertised on the TES website. I won’t provide a link, and I won’t name the school. Such texts a short-lived, as they disappear once the closing date elapses. I am looking at posts in the secondary phase, because that’s my own, but I suspect those in the primary sector a likely to be similar.
I’m not selecting any particular subject or location. I have selected role of “teacher” in an attempt to avoid promoted roles, but I know from experience that promoted roles often appear in such a selection. At time of writing, there are 2204 such roles. I will not be going through all of them! Instead, I’ve picked the firs three.
A Note On Agenda and Motive
I’d like to make it clear that this is in no way intended to be an exercise in the kind of criticism that so much of #EduTwitter seems to indulge in. I don’t mean to criticise these adverts. I’m not trying to highlight anything wrong with them. That’s really not my intention or job here. What is my intention is to ask questions about what the language chosen might imply; to interrogate the kind of language that is employed in the most mundane aspects of the educational field.
So, let’s get on with it.
The first one is for a teacher of computer science and ICT. I quote the first paragraph:
An exciting opportunity to work in our popular, growing ICT and Computing Team within our Maths and Business Learning Village; it is suitable for an outstanding Teacher who is able to teach IT to all Key Stages including 6th Form and computer science to at least KS3, with KS4 and KS5 an advantage. We’re looking for an ambitious, talented teacher looking for an excellent stepping stone for leadership roles in the future and who shares our belief in the highest standards of academic achievement in an inclusive setting. For us attitude, ideas, potential and teaching skill are important, we will actively support your development.
As I said, I don’t intend to deconstruct this text in some amateur Foucauldian hatchet job, nor do I intend to perform a genealogical analysis. But I would urge you to read this paragraph with Pat Thomson’s questions in mind. Furthermore, I’d like to ask some specific questions about this paragraph.
- What might “exciting opportunity” imply?
- What is a “Learning Village”? Is it a euphemism for “department” or “faculty”? Or is it a geographical thing? Is the faculty housed in a building separate from the main building?
- In what way is the department (sorry, Team) “growing”? Are more pupils choosing the subject at KS4 and Ks5? Are more subjects being offered?
- Since Ofsted no longer grades individual lessons or teachers, and many schools appear to have abandoned this practice, by what criteria are candidates to consider themselves to be “an outstanding Teacher”? And why has “teacher” been capitalised? Is this a typo, or does it reflect an attempt to emphasise the professional identity of the teacher?
- Following on from that, does this school still grade individual lessons or/and teachers? What does this imply about the school’s performance management procedure [I once worked in a school that, even if you met your PM targets, would prevent you from climbing the salary scale if you didn’t hit Good in every observation, and if this happened for two cycles could decrease your pay]?
- Why is “ambitious” synonymous with a desire for “leadership roles”? Why is leadership held in such high regard and esteem?
- Are any and all “ideas” considered to be important? Are there any “ideas” which might be considered unimportant, unhelpful or unhealthy?
- If a school is keen to support the development of the ambitions and potential of a teacher seeking leadership roles, does that mean the school is anticipating that such leadership roles will be available within its own setting soon? Or does it imply that they expect the candidates to stay only for a short period of time? Why might this be?
The second advert is for a Lead Practitioner in English. Again, I’ve taken the first paragraph.
We are seeking to appoint a creative, highly motivated and dynamic candidate who ‘loves’ English to join our English Faculty as a Lead Practitioner. This role will involve working closely with the Head of Faculty and KEY Stage Leaders to ensure the effective delivery of a challenging and engaging curriculum, delivered using the very best of new and traditional teaching and learning approaches.
- How does one define any of the adjectives in the persuasive triplet in the first sentence? “Creative” in what sense? A Shakespearean one? Does the school want a candidate who is nimble with iambic pentameter? I’m being slightly flippant here, of course, but I think you’ll get my point. How about “dynamic”? I assume we can take this definition from the OED: “positive in attitude and full of energy and new ideas”. Again, like the previous advert, there is an implication of newness and, perhaps, change. I wonder: how many new ideas and how much change is the SLT of this school open to?
- “Delivery” and “delivered” are interesting terms, aren’t they?
- “New and traditional teaching and learning approaches” – is the school advocating #NoBestWay? Is the school leadership engaged in the debates on #EduTwitter surrounding pedagogical methodologies? Are teachers at the school free to autonomously choose which methods they use?
- Whilst there are no explicit references in this opening paragraph to “outstanding”, the word does appear later in the advert, where the school is looking for someone who “has the ability to regularly deliver outstanding learning experiences”. Does this imply graded lesson observations operate in this school? How are these learning experiences judged, by which criteria?
The third advert is for a Teacher of English. It’s a nice short first paragraph:
We are seeking to appoint an enthusiastic and well qualified English graduate to join our proactive, highly motivated and supportive team. You will be responsible for planning and delivering high quality lessons and achieving excellent results, instilling in all students a love for the subject and a desire to learn.
I’m going to leave you to form your own thoughts and questions about this one.
The next few adverts on the TES list are mostly focused on giving information about the schools, so I won’t reproduce them here. It’s interesting, though, that so many of them contain very little about the qualities wanted in the desired candidate. It’s also interesting how many adverts use the word “outstanding” in their candidate desires.
As I have said, it is not my intention to find fault with these advertisements. Rather, this is an attempt on my part to raise questions. I’d warmly welcome any comments.