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Construction of teacher identity in popular film and political discourse: Moving toward empowerment

Nichelle D McNabb, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


America's teachers are lacking empowerment. Although the state requires them to meet certification requirements and they are seemingly pedagogical experts, they remain poorly compensated. Teachers are also asked to perform tasks such as: policing lunch rooms and hallways, completing bureaucratic paperwork, chaperoning extracurricular events, attending meetings and conferences, and teaching. Their obligations extend well beyond the normal school hours. In 1983 Ronald Reagan's Education Secretary, Terrance Bell, commissioned the ground-breaking report A Nation at Risk. This report was monumental because it helped to shape subsequent education discourse. This dissertation examines the rhetoric of A Nation at Risk. However, because most Americans are less inclined to read governmental reports than they are to watch television, read a magazine, or see a movie the reflection of the arguments in A Nation at Risk may best be revealed in popular culture's portrayals of teachers. I examined the nation's views on teacher identity in the two decades following A Nation at Risk by analyzing how teacher's identities are constructed in films about them. The method I used was narrative analysis. Historically, the dominant meta-narratives about teachers are that they are called, are members of an occupation, are members of a profession, or they are dysfunctional. In my analysis, I noted that the calling, the occupation, and the professional meta-narratives seemed to mould into an idealist meta-narrative. An idealist is someone who lacks training and experience in pedagogical methods. However, because they are dedicated to seeing their students learn, they overcome what initially appear to be insurmountable obstacles. Many of the same elements appear as mirror opposites in the meta-narrative of teachers as dysfunctional. The difference appears to be that teachers who are called ultimately prosper. This would appear to be a positive view of teaching, but it actually maintains the traditionally low status of teachers. In this dissertation, I dissect the troubling components of the dominant meta-narrative and suggest ways to undermine its power by developing counterstories. ^

Subject Area

Speech Communication|Education, Secondary|Language, Rhetoric and Composition|Cinema

Recommended Citation

McNabb, Nichelle D, "Construction of teacher identity in popular film and political discourse: Moving toward empowerment" (2004). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3131548.