An exploration of the ways in which teachers navigate tensions in their professional lives

  • Hilary Lee

Student thesis: EdD


Despite the extensive research into teachers’ lives in recent decades, relatively little of it has focused on the experiences of motivated teachers. Past research has tended to focus upon the issue of retention in a profession that is dominated by regulation and performance measures. This thesis offers an original contribution to the field by exploring the experiences of established teachers who consider themselves to be motivated and who successfully navigate the tensions between the current education landscape and their personal values about teaching. The research provides insights into the complex context within which teachers work and the ways in which they manage this complexity. The methodology is grounded in the principles of adaptive theory which enables the analysis of subjective experience alongside analysis of pre-existing theories to reveal links between teachers’ actions and the structures and systems which affect them. As such, the research offers a new lens through which to consider the complex nature of teachers’ professional lives.
The research consists of in-depth interviews with six teachers over the course of a year. The research findings reveal how successful teachers are able to adapt behaviours to negotiate tensions and take control of their own practice. The teachers in this study demonstrate curiosity and critical awareness of the issues in education that go beyond their daily practice. They have a deep understanding of their own values and the factors that influence them and are therefore able to position themselves within the profession and the organisation within which they work. This enables them to take positive action rather than merely cope with the challenges they face. The findings have implications for teacher training and development programmes and the ways in which they enable teachers to navigate and shape their own professional lives.
Date of Award22 May 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Roehampton
SupervisorJulie Shaughnessy (Supervisor) & Alaster Scott Douglas (Supervisor)


  • Teacher identity, professionalism, adaptive theory, teacher agency

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