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The Professional Culture of the primary school teacher in Portugal - Revista Sísifo

Sísifo Educational Sciences Journal Educational Sciences R&D Unit of the University of Lisbon  Edited by Rui Canário and Jorge Ramos do Ó ISSN: 1646-6500

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The Professional Culture of the primary school teacher in Portugal

A line of research undergoing development

Autor: Telmo H. Caria +

pages: 115 116 117 118 119 120 121 122 123 124 125 126 127 128 | pdf | next article »

The know-how to be peripheral power, because it knows what collectively it does not want, knows what does not belong to it, knows what it cannot have, knows what is not expected to happen. The know-how to be comes to the fore, therefore, through an ethos of negation and avoiding proactive action. This is why, as I said earlier, it is not a community of origin, nor of project: any and every more proactive attitude generates and highlights the separations and divisions of the ideologies and professional projects that coexist at the heart of the teachers. To sum up, the peripheral power does not want to run risks: the risk of losing effectiveness in its ability to constrain and undertake silent sabotage of the institutional power which guides the fortunes and debates the School, as it has no guarantee that it can earn a significant share of political power over the school system through the fact that it is a participant in the educational debate.

But faced with this risk it is not enough to cultivate an ethos of defensive or passive opposition; it is necessary that this principle of practice goes further, because as the teachers are not, as I said, a community of origin or project, it is important to know how to act and deal with the huge social and cultural heterogeneity that its own professional group contains. Indeed, we see that each time the group risks adopting a position and opts for an alternative path among several, that is not merely the confirmation of a “no” in relation to institutional decisions given, it immediately divides itself into a multiplicity of aspirations, directions and guidelines for action. This is why it is decisive for any professional group to create a local tradition of doing and thinking, that socialises the younger members and teaches the know-how to be to the peers, knowing how to live with the differences in professional projects and social trajectories at its heart. Failure to do so will lead to the risk that the evident differences turn into hierarchies and are viewed as deficits in relation to a standard or model, in the case of a professional teaching standard, which is foreign and external to them, because it is designed by social groups that hold more economic and social power (Caria, 2000, pp. 525-541).

As Bourdieu wrote, only the social groups that have greater social and economic power in society can afford to collectively show or cultivate differences and enable these differences to have connotations of social distinction on lifestyle (Bourdieu, 1979). In the everyday language of the teachers it is said that the group does not look favourably upon those who stand out, who excessively affirm themselves, who think and do for themselves, i.e. those who create distinction and for this reason reveal the heterogeneity of the group to the exterior. On the contrary, the group looks favourably upon those who innovate, propose, experiment but who do and think so without mapping out and radicalising the divergences, preferring instead to share the innovation with the rest of the group. This sharing is not borne out of altruism, but because it is known that the group will not appropriate that which has an author, because to preserve the collective peripheral power educational innovation that distinguishes what each person experiments will never be formalised (Caria, 2000).

As a consequence, the professional culture of the teachers developed in the practical-cultural knowledge has to have the capacity to silence the divergences of positions in the group and know how to deal with the differences in interpreting how the surrounding world is viewed. The group has become skilled in the art of developing a culture that knows how to create consensus among the heterogeneity of positions and professional trajectories. And it knows how to enable educational innovation, informal and interactive, to coexist in the same place, without explicit opposition and splits against the formal and institutional conservatism, resisting the central power of the institution. The culture of the teacher carries out a symbolic work on the self, inasmuch as becoming and seeming equal to what is socially and culturally heterogeneous (Caria, 2000, pp. 309-341).

Therefore we return to the idea that the “culture object” is not a norm for us, or a symbolic structure. It is an apparent social construction that becomes real through the localized social reproduction of a given social group, through a tradition. The possibility of thinking the culture in these terms supposes, we believe, looking upon it as a situational determination of the practice, linked to the aforementioned interactive reflexivity, and not as a structural-symbolic determination, as is the case of the habitus (Caria, 2004; cf. Miranda, 2002).

If the teachers do not have the option of social distinction, the solution to enable power to be wielded, albeit peripheral, is to undertake a symbolic game which I have called social levelling (the opposite of social distinction): the group cultivates the similarities through silences of some practices and through consensus of meaning of others. This makes the divergences and conflicts between the professional ideologies of different teachers pale into insignificance in the public field and informal social interaction within the group. But this symbolic game has to be taken seriously by the participants (it is not “make-believe”) so that they can believe that they are a community, when at the same time they do not have objective conditions to be one. Meanwhile, the game observed was so serious that they also convinced the ethnographer, myself at the time, to recognise the symbolic existence of a professional culture in the singular, not that of professional cultures (in the plural) as is traditionally concluded in the analysis about the teaching profession (3) if the professional group adopted a stance in relation to the educational policies and therefore entered into the game of revealing in the debates about the school institution the different professional ideologies existing and their articulations with the various positions under discussion.

About the Author:

Telmo H. Caria (tp.datu@airactREVERSETHIS) - http://home.utad.pt/~tcaria/index.html

Universidade de Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro

Sociologist, Associate Professor of Social Sciences at the Universidade de Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro and Full-time Researcher at the Centre of Educational Research and Intervention (CIIE) of the Psychology and Educational Sciences Faculty at Porto University.

Ethnographical method, Peripheral power of the teachers, Professional culture, Professional use of knowledge.
How to refer to this article:

Caria, Telmo H. (1970). The Professional Culture of the primary school teacher in Portugal. A line of research undergoing development. Sísifo. Educational Sciences Journal, , pp. 115-128. Retrieved [month, year] from http://sisifo.fpce.ul.pt