This thesis reports on research conducted with Technical and Further Education (TAFE) teachers from Queensland and Western Australia. The research is located at
the intersection where teachers’ identities met the discourse of new vocationalism. Scholars have highlighted the tensions that this discourse has produced in the
relationships between TAFE and its teachers, and noted that TAFE teachers are pressured to change their subjectivities to reflect themselves more effectively as
workers in an educational market focused on economic imperatives. This is often in contrast to these teachers’ personal notions of themselves as liberal educators, with a
focus on lifelong learning, personal transformation, collaborative relationships and social responsibility. This research was driven by the possibility that the concept of ‘critical spirit’ might provide a means for TAFE teachers to stand their ground in relation to the continued reshaping of the TAFE teacher terrain produced by the adoption of the new vocational discourse.
This interpretative research was conceptualised by synthesising sociocultural perspectives of discourse as a reality building tool (Gee, 2005) with notions of critical
thinker dispositions referred to as critical spirit (Siegel, 1988; Oxman-Michelli, 1992). The elements of critical spirit: openmindedness, independence of mind,
wholeheartedness, intellectual responsibility and respect for others (Oxman-Michelli,1992) were used as central components to the development of a coding framework for
the explication of critical spirit from TAFE teacher artefacts and in positioning critical spirit as a discourse. An examination of 12 TAFE teacher case narrative artefacts revealed that elements of critical spirit were evident. Subsequent participant
credibility checks and semi-structured interviews provided diverse data related to teacher embodiment of a critical spirit in relation to the building of certain teacher identities. In some cases participants expressed that their identities were bolstered by engaging in a critical spirit discourse, others cautioned its public embodiment, suggesting that deploying critical spirit made them more visible to surveillance and control. The major finding of this research was that an explicit engagement with a
critical spirit discourse was of value to these TAFE teachers. Furthermore, this critical spirit discourse was seen to perform the work of a borderland discourse (Gee, 2005; Alsup, 2006). It afforded a means to traverse the terrain “between disparate personal and professional subjectivities” (Alsup, 2006, p. 5).
The research also uncovered other discourses pertinent to participant artefacts. These were identified as a test of fortitude discourse and a community of support discourse.
It was postulated that these would extend the critical spirit discourse by adding to Oxman-Michelli’s (1992) five elements of critical spirit. The findings suggested little
evidence to support this position.
The significance of this research was in: (a) the production of a methodological construct for explicating particular notions of critical spirit; (b) its contribution to furthering understandings of the professional lives of TAFE teachers and their work
world; and (c) the value that a critical spirit discourse had in strengthening these TAFE teachers’ notions of themselves and their effectiveness. Its contribution to
substantial knowledge was in its expansion of our understanding of teacher identities within the Vocational Education and Training sector in Australia.