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Invisible teachers, visible problems : perspectives on relief teaching


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Webb, Penelope Christina, 1999 , 'Invisible teachers, visible problems : perspectives on relief teaching', PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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As a result of staff shortages, relief or substitute teachers are playing an increasing
role in many schools, yet they are largely invisible in policies, practices and research.
In contrast, the problems surrounding relief teaching are highly visible: senior
administrators worry about costs and timetables; regular teachers complain that no
work is done; students become noisier; and relief teachers adopt strategies for
'survival'. Paradoxically, while there is a recurring theme in the literature to improve
relief teaching effectiveness, relief teaching remains a low priority within the
education system.
This investigation evolved from a personal search to make sense of the recurring
problems and paradoxes surrounding relief teaching. Its purpose was: to gather data
on relief teaching which reflected the 'reality' of personal experience from a number of
viewpoints; to determine the main issues from student, teaching and administrative
perspectives, using a constant comparative method of analysis; and to find deeper
links to illuminate the multidimensional relationships between relief teaching and its
Research was conducted in a core of eight secondary schools where the researcher
worked as a relief teacher. Over a period of three years, through a synthesis of
interviews, observations, anecdotal evidence, and reflection based on a naturalistic
paradigm, the researcher developed strategies which enabled her to remain closely
attuned to the varying settings. Using an inductive approach, data were gathered from
over 300 participants, mostly administrators, teachers and students. In all, 85 hours of
interviews were transcribed in addition to her written observations and reflections as a
The findings showed that the lack of consistent information, feedback and
accountability caused many interview respondents to adopt a pragmatic, short-term
approach to the management and practice of relief teaching. They based their
decisions on divergent assumptions which were rarely challenged, causing problems
to recur and intensify.
The investigation concluded that the problems surrounding relief teaching were linked
by three underlying factors: the context of relief teaching is largely invisible; relief
teaching is different from regular teaching; and that there is no official recognition
that problems exist. The process of making relief teaching visible as a phenomenon
illuminated many inconsistencies within varying contexts and perspectives. Evidence
strongly suggests that the context of relief teaching is central to the teaching and
learning settings in schools. It shows, also, that the present approach to relief teaching
is highly ineffective and gives rise to serious problems with far-reaching professional,
economical, and legal implications. The thesis provides recommendations for future
initiatives. Extensive appendices and the thematic structures underpinning the thesis
enable the selection of material for a variety of purposes.

Item Type: Thesis - PhD
Authors/Creators:Webb, Penelope Christina,
Keywords: Substitute teachers, Teachers, High school teachers
Copyright Holders: The Author
Copyright Information:

Copyright 1999 the Author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright
owner(s) and in the meantime this item has been reproduced here in good faith. We
would be pleased to hear from the copyright owner(s).

Additional Information:

Spine title: Perspectives on relief teaching. Thesis (Ph.D)--University of Tasmania, 1999. Includes bibliographical references (leaves 200-210)

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