Newspapers are instruments of the public domain. As such, they are performative texts that enable public engagement in, for instance, the politics, perceptions and practices of teachers’ work. However, they are not neutral instruments; they also work to construct public opinion. Newspapers are globalised, competitive businesses whose ownership is driven by profit and vested interests. Such business-driven imperatives can lead to specific portrayals of teachers in the public domain that in turn work to construct particular knowledges about teachers’ work. It is thus my conclusion that newspapers are politically positioned and therefore their stories are not ’innocent’ accounts of the news. Reportage often privileges certain discourses about teachers, while marginalizing others. These privileged discourses provide a public account of teachers, which both constitute the readers’ understanding and naturalise particular socially constructed realities regarding teachers and their work. The dominant constructed realities often deride teachers. The research reported in this thesis problematises these constructions of teachers in newspapers for their lack of trust in teachers and teacher professionalism.
This thesis is about troubling news. I explore discourses about teachers and their work in the Australian print media. In particular, I outline four media constructs of teachers: the regulated accountable teacher, the transparent audited teacher, the failing incompetent teacher and the privileged reckless teacher. I then challenge and trouble the politics, perceptions and practices of these negative constructions of teachers and the realities they create. The four media constructs provide a framework for the discursive analysis of newspaper texts and participant interviews. These constructs were drawn from and framed through an inductive analysis of the news texts and they explore how teachers were positioned within media discourses.
The guiding research question for this study was: What constructions of teachers and their work are prevalent in discourses that operate in the print media? The news texts were gathered from The Australian, a News Limited paper, the only Australian national paper with a broad-focus. The data were gathered through a document study of newspaper texts over an 18 month period and semi-structured interviews with teachers and journalists. The newspaper texts and the interview transcripts were categorised to identify emergent themes. This enabled a discursive analysis that focused on socio-cultural, political and institutional practices, and the knowledge and power relations inherent in them. The participants’ perspectives also provided an account for the analysis of the ways in which particular discourses were shaping the construction of teachers and their work. Through the interview narratives, the participants constructed representations or versions of themselves as teachers or journalists, while news texts constructed representations of teachers and their work. Some discourses about teachers became accepted as commonsensical. These discourses became normalised and mainstream and therefore, circulated extensively as ‘true’ while other discourses were marginalised. My research identified the constructed realities of teachers and teachers’ work by investigating the discourses that construct what Foucault described as ‘regimes of truth’.
The normalised discourses identified in my findings were generally critical, negative, oppressive and reductionist regarding teachers and their work. They were also public discourses due to the wide-spread availability of the newspaper. Consequently, these discourses were both dangerous and potentially destructive as they eroded public trust for teachers and the teaching profession. Within each of the four constructs, news texts were positioned within discourses of fact construction and ‘truth’, while teachers were positioned within discourses of accountability and transparency; of control, regulation, and measurement; of performativity and productivity; of professionalism, quality, effectiveness, improvement, incompetency, and falling standards; and of misconduct, recklessness, resistance, industrial activism, and inconvenience. Consequently, discourses of blame, derision, failure, greed and benefit or privilege circulated about teachers. My findings suggested these discourses circulated within the wider context of discourses of crisis, moral panic, morality and ‘othering’ of teachers.
My study contributes to a growing body of knowledge and research in the area of mediated realities of teachers’ work through various constructions of teachers. I have uniquely identified four media constructs of teachers. Additionally, I draw out implications and recommendations for teachers and schools, district authorities and governments, parents, and media institutions. Therefore, this study makes a contribution to the literature on media and the teaching profession. My thesis provides insights into the politics and practices of institutions such as newspaper organisations and the perceptions of teachers, through their own perspectives and that of news texts. With a better understanding of media institutions, their practices and representations, teachers and journalists can work towards mutual respect and improvement. My intent, and therefore my contribution, is to encourage teachers, schools, and governments to actively participate in the media process and trouble the news, rather than being bystanders who are frustrated and annoyed with the troubling news they read in the press.