Teachers are considered by most policymakers and school change experts to be the centerpiece of educational change. Therefore, it is not surprisingly that many current educational reform efforts in South Africa are directed at teachers, and their involvement in educational reform is seen as critical. Reforms must address the core processes of teaching and learning if they are to markedly change what happens in schools. Yet teachers respond to educational reforms in a variety of ways: some teachers push or sustain reform efforts, whereas others resist or actively subvert them. The question of addressing curriculum change in our schools has recently become a matter of contention. Teachers are finding it difficult to adjust to the changing educational policies that seek to coerce teachers into addressing curriculum change in their classrooms.
In response to the changes in educational policy in the new dispensation, the teaching of history, a subject that had already experienced numerous transformations in the past, was once again faced with the challenges of a renewed curriculum framework. This paper aims to capture the complexities and contradictions that are associated with a transforming educational system. More specifically the question of how history teachers see themselves within this transformation process and the impact that it has on their identities to curriculum change.
Identity formation theories were used as a lens to understand the various forces that influence the identities of teachers. A number of theories were examined in order to unfold identity development from various approaches to allow for a more holistic understanding of a teachers’ life career. The main question that guided this investigation was how history teachers construct their identities within the context of curriculum change.
In attempting to unpack the messiness of the curriculum transformation process and at the same time to capture how history teachers are negotiating their roles and identities in post apartheid South Africa, this research study employed a qualitative method of data collection based on a life history research tradition. The richness of information that was obtained from lengthy, open-ended interviews with six history teachers from the Kwasanti circuit, provided a sound platform on which to respond to the critical questions of the study. The data was collated to develop narrative stories with the intention of understanding teacher thinking and experiences within a broad social and historical context. The wealth of information provided by the interviews enabled the researcher to examine how these teachers were constructing their identities within the context of curriculum change.
An analysis of the findings indicated that the conceptions that history teachers have about the changing curriculum are influenced by their past experiences. The study revealed that some of the major forces of influence that shaped the teachers’ understanding of the changing curriculum were pragmatic and educational. Teachers come with many realities into the profession often reconstructing and creating their context based on past experiences and perceptions. Evidence from the data reveals that the plethora of policy initiatives seeking educational transformation in South Africa are to a large degree not congruent with existing teachers’ beliefs. Teachers have to redefine and renegotiate their roles and identities, which is problematic because they come embedded with experiences gleaned during the apartheid era.
The study concludes with a synthesis of the findings, and it makes recommendations for addressing the present needs of history teachers in South Africa. The reconceptualisation of education through new policy initiatives therefore has to refocus and look more closely at teachers’ understanding of their day-to-day realities in the work environment. Teachers need to ‘own’ the process of change, and reform efforts need to be grounded in an understanding of teachers’ professional lives and development. Teachers must see themselves as experts in the dynamics of change. To become experts in the dynamics of change, teachers must become skilled changed agents.