Deliberation, Dissent, and Advocacy: A Rhetorical Study of Teachers' Lived Experiences with Education Reform
Garahan, Katie Lynn
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Contemporary K-12 education reform policies have focused heavily on the teaching profession through increased accountability measures and decreased job security. In the rhetoric of contemporary reform, teachers are often praised as heroes capable of overcoming any obstacles and at the same time blamed for the perceived failures of public schools. This dissertation examines the impact of such policies and corresponding representations on the lived experiences of K-12 teachers in North Carolina, specifically highlighting the strategies through which teachers gain rhetorical agency within the discursive space of reform. To do so, I apply an analytical frame of public sphere theory and employ a mixed-methods approach that combines archival methods and fieldwork (e.g. participant observation and interviews). This dissertation argues that teachers' discourses provide alternative narratives to the dominant view that modifying the teaching profession is a cure-all for educational problems. I first develop a history of contemporary education reform in North Carolina and argue that within these discourses, teachers are represented as heroes able to do more work with less pay under increased scrutiny. Then, analyzing images of protest signs collected at the May 16 teacher rally in Raleigh, North Carolina, I argue that teachers rhetorically perform their professional identities as student advocates, champions of public educators, and political dissenters. As such, they dismantle dominant representations of their profession and advance a notion of public education that values collaboration, equitability, and the public good. Last, I examine how teachers negotiate the tension between their goals and the constraints of policy, arguing that contemporary reform undermines teachers' expertise. At the same time, teachers devise strategies to work toward their visions of public education. Such strategies include building relationships, being persistent, de-prioritizing policy, and cultivating community.
- Doctoral Dissertations