Explaining differential performance of teacher college students
Mcmillan, Wendy Jayne
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The purpose of this study is to examine the relationship between identity and differential academic performance in a cohort of preprimary teachers-in-training. The study draws on indepth interviews with, and detailed observations of, nineteen students and five of their lecturers at a college of education in Cape Town in the late 1990s. Through an analysis of the narratives of academic performance of these students, this work argues that students constructed narratives of academic performance framed by their expectations of what they considered possible for people of their particular identity. Thus as a consequence, students who shared common identities and social locations tended to share common narrative threads. This was most evident in the way in which three broad narrative perspectives emerged - framed by shared social locations of race, class, and gender, and common understandings of religion and cognitive ability. However, within each broad grouping .individual agency nuanced how each student interpreted his or her personal history and particular social locations through the discourses to which he or she had access. This work presents a. challenge to the dominant metaphor of reproduction in the field of educational studies. It is clear from analysis of the students' narratives that as active agents they were not unproblematically reproduced by the teacher college as classed, raced, and gendered subjects. Rather, they produced themselves within existing, and often potentially contradictory, material and discursive contexts. In explaining differential academic performance, this work examines the way in which narrative understandings introduce people into particular ways of life through their authorial voice and legitimating functions. More specifically, it explains how subjective narratives of academic performance introduce students into particular social actions that result in 'objective' differential academic performance as recorded on year-end mark schedules. However, in selecting narrative analysis as a conceptual framework for the work, it has been possible to motivate for an explanation that goes beyond an analysis of academic achievement and failure. In successive chapters evidence is marshaled to frame an argument that students' narratives shape their social action as agents of history, and are implicated in the distribution of privilege within society. The framing of the research question was premised on the assumption that a relationship exists between educational outcomes and access to life chances. While evidence is presented that signals how subjective narratives of academic performance are 'lived out' as 'objective' academic performance, a linear relationship between marks as academic performance and life chances is raised as problematic. It is argued that rather than merely shaping academic performance, narratives as theories of social reality frame all understandings of the social world including access to socio-economic privilege. It is these understandings that get 'lived out' in the choices that students make about their futures. A significant thread to the argument is the extent to which lecturers are implicated in the narrative understandings that students construct, and consequently in the unequal distribution of privilege in society. While seeking to explain academic performance, the study comes to the significant conclusion that narrative understandings, rather than academic performance, are implicated in the distribution of privilege in society.