Teachers through the looking glass : an enquiry into the public image of teachers
Looking back over a long career as a secondary school English teacher prompted
the reflection that during my professional lifetime something of former value has
been lost by teachers. I tentatively attributed this to an apparent deterioration in
the way in which teachers are perceived by other members of society, and it is
this supposition and its implications that this dissertation explores.
My concern was, in part, personal. More significant was my growing belief that
this seemingly negative perception of teachers was - and is - discouraging able
graduates from embarking on a career in education, demoralising serving
teachers, and consequently damaging the schooling of pupils, who are our
Given that images are socially constructed, I located my work within the
symbolic interactionist paradigm, and explored perceptions from a range of
I first investigated ways in which teachers are depicted in books recommended to
pupils through the National Curriculum for English, and from English public
examination prescribed texts; I subsequently expanded data through interviews
with teachers and other members of society, through analysis of newspaper
reports and articles, and through consideration of views obtained from pupils.
Data confirmed that teachers are generally conceptualised negatively, and thus,
in the populist sense, as non-professionals. However, there is evidence, too, of
more positive perceptions. I deduce that teacher-image is characterised by
ambivalence, and irony, and is vulnerable to change.
Moreover, setting teacher-image against its socio-historic background implies
that this ambiguity of perception symptomises prevailing attitudes to education.
Thus, current initiatives - which may be interpreted as intended,in part, to
reconceptualise teacher-image - could suggest recent recognition of the
importance of conveying positive perceptions of teachers, in order to recruit and
retain competent and committed practitioners.