The impact of stress and distress on teachers

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We shall not cease from exploration And the end of all our exploring Will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time

T.S. Elliot: ‘Little Gidding’


This chapter provides the literature background that informed the way I went about collecting the research participants’ knowledges and documenting them in this thesis. As the literature review usually ‘involves the identification and analysis of information resources and/or literature related to one’s research project’ (Kaniki 2006:19), I will explore in this chapter those theories I have used to support my research objectives. This research has been done at a time in South Africa’s history ‘when old habits are hard to break and hope is still fragile’ (Ackermann 2003:65). In order to find ways of standing with teachers who are struggling to cope within the complex challenges of a society in transition and especially with how to negotiate difference in our multicultural and multi-religious country (rainbow nation), I have had to draw from a wide range of disciplines, including theories from scholars in the fields of Psychology, Sociology and Theology.
This chapter will also explore what Practical Theologians, and all who are concerned with the well-being of our teachers, can gain from shifting paradigms – from a modernist to a postmodern world view – thereby expanding the somewhat limited understanding and perspectives currently at our disposal.
I propose that Interpretive and Narrative approaches to Practical Theological practices can provide ‘possibilities for newness’ (Anderson 2007:13): new possibilities for caring for and with teachers in our challenging, fragile and ever changing postmodern world.
The Narrative approach and, in this research project in particular, Narrative Pastoral Counselling provided the practices and theoretical background for the stories of transformation in the co-researcher’s lives, contexts and relationships (see Chapter 5).
This chapter concludes with overviews of an African model for Pastoral Counselling and a South African model of healing which seems to fit well with the Narrative approach in this study.
The following section provides a fairly general introduction to Postmodernism and those aspects of Postmodernism that are particularly useful to this study.

Postmodern umbrella

In broad terms, Postmodernism refers to a family of concepts within the Natural and Social Science disciplines. It involves an ideological critique of the relevance of foundational knowledge, privileged discourse and meta-narratives. It questions the consequences, certainty and power which ‘Truths’ have on peoples’ everyday lives. It challenges mainly the ‘truth’ and centricity of individual knowledge; the possibility of an objective and knowable world; and language as the carrier of truth (Gergen 2001: 803-813). It also challenges our passive acceptance of taken-for-granted assumptions about the ‘truth.’ So, for example, a postmodern approach rejects the notion that there can be an ultimate truth and it ‘emphasizes instead the co-existence of a multiplicity and variety of situation-dependent ways of life’ (Burr 1995:13-14).
The emphasis on multiplicity and various ways of knowing has often resulted in institutions based on a single ‘truth’ – such as the church and school – oppose Postmodernism as a form of evil, warning that: ‘He who marries the spirit of the age soon finds himself a widower’ (Preston 1999:52). In this research project, however, most of the research participants (the teachers of Beaumont Primary School) discovered that although they were challenged by different ways of thinking from what they were used to, they found the certain postmodern ideas – such as knowledge being co-constructed – to be both enriching and liberating. They discovered that by challenging the discourses in the societies in which they worked and lived, they could also challenge their own values and discourses, thereby broadening their horizons.
Kotzé (2002:11) offers another angle on Postmodernism, as a form of ‘ethical-political resistance – against the injustices resulting from the scientific and technological power regimes of modernity itself.’ This idea informed the way that I documented the teachers’ research journeys and became a form of ethical-political resistance, thereby acknowledging their ‘stories and voices of those…constitute[ting] the ‘Other’ (Van Wyk 1999:6) within the hierarchy of our society.
I chose therefore, to position myself within a Postmodern paradigm in this research project, largely because the paradigm challenges the many meta-narratives which enshrine universal, absolute and ultimate truths and which legalize the various political and scientific projects of our time (Appignanesi & Garratt 2003:103). Hunter (2001:32) reminds us that Postmodernism challenges the meta-narratives as well as the ‘cultural and social land shifts in which a longstanding confidence in certain habits of mind and social practices long associated with the Enlightenment in Europe have collapsed.’ The implications of such a shift will be explored more fully in this research study.
Brueggemann (1993:5) illustrates the kinds of knowledge that constitutes ‘real knowledge’ from a modernist perspective, and offers us some understanding of how these grand narratives were shaped. In a modernist perspective:

  • The general applicability of truth is emphasized rather than local and contextual ‘truths’
  • Written ‘text’ is more reliable than oral ‘text’
  • Knowledge is seen as timeless and unchanging opposed to ‘timely’ (historical and situational)
  • The focus is on finding truth that is eternal and universal, rather than particular.
  • Understanding is reduced to essential concepts which are then accepted as ‘truth-for-all-time.’

This modernist view – which totalized, universalized and insisted on an impersonal, de-contextualized understanding of reality – has had a significant impact on Christian spirituality, philosophy and our understanding about God rather than of God. The fact that the modernist view also supported patriarchy – usually white, Western heterosexual men – eventually left people torn between what the ‘experts’ said and what they ‘knew’ intuitively. By adopting a postmodern way of questioning in this research, it liberated the teachers from what the ‘experts’ said about God and gave the teachers the opportunity to express their own understanding and experience of God (see also
From a modernist perspective those practices that created ‘the Other’- such as racism, sexism, oppression and marginalization – flowed out of how we rationalized our understanding of the world. But by adopting a postmodern view in this research, however, it provided a vehicle whereby to question and reject many of the fundamental assumptions of modernity that were contributing to the teachers’ struggles. Take for example, the impact which patriarchy has on the education system. My research revealed how the older female teachers seem to struggle more, and are frequently overlooked for senior positions in teaching, whereas men are favored (see also i, ii). Crouch’s research (2001:5-6) revealed that the reason for men’s preferential treatment is that women ‘are not seen as fit’ or competent enough to be in senior positions. Exploring patriarchy with the teachers – and its effects on their daily lives – opened the way for a much wider exploration of the discourses surrounding gender and, within the gender discourse, themes such as menopause, illness and being heard (see the full analysis of the data in Chapter 5).
Another new possibility opened up by the shift from a modernist to a postmodern paradigm concerns the way knowledge and language are viewed. A Postmodern discourse regards knowledge and language mostly as relational and generative, in sharp contrast with the modernist Western tradition of individualism in which the individual is seen as an autonomous knower who can pass knowledge to others and who can create or discover knowledge which is mainly observer-independent. The knower thus separates himself/herself from which he/she observes, describes and explains. As knowledge and language forms such an integral part of teaching, I explored this theme intensively in this research (see also


From a Postmodern perspective, knowledge is socially constructed. This means that knowledge and the knower are independent. Since Postmodernism also advocates that all knowledge7 and knowing are embedded in history, culture, context, experience, language and understanding, this perspective promotes a critical reflection of all truths, including Postmodernism.
Similarly, a Postmodern perspective favors local knowledge or knowledge developed within a community of people. Such knowledge is seen as participatory knowledge or relational knowledge which opposes objectivity or observer-independent knowledge so characteristic of a modernist stance. Research participants feel relevant and useful, rather than objects of research.
Traditional modernist research emphasizes the outsider (researcher) studying and observing the subject. Patterns and similarities are searched for, from which theoretical knowledge is created to describe or know a person or communities. Categorizing and predicting are used to support and explain actions. A Postmodern approach questions this approach to knowledge and research. By adopting a Postmodern approach, I was able to utilize insider inquiry. My focus was on learning about the teachers’ experiences and the uniqueness of their experience rather than on identifying patterns and similarities. Moreover, since a Postmodern approach advocates that we can only know the world through our own experiences – we cannot have absolute knowledge of it – differences in teachers’ interpretations were valued. It is through our (different) interpretations that we create knowledge, which is no longer seen as a fixed entity, but as continually evolving, changing and shifting. The fluid nature of knowledge means there is also no finality to our understandings, meanings and realities. Thus knowledge is communal rather than being a passive process or an individual activity (Anderson 2007:6).
A Postmodern approach regards all knowledge as contextual ‘as it is set in some context [and] rooted in some life experience or issue (Astley 2003:3). The research participants, all teachers in the context of Beaumont Primary School teachers, were actively involved in the process of creating knowledge. They influenced the knowledges that are documented in this research Knowledge: When I use the term knowledge, I refer to social knowledge and meaning. I do not refer to scientific facts, but to the meaning we attribute to facts.
project as they constructed the ‘readily available possibilities of what they knew and how they knew it (Roux et al 2003a:46).
O’Brien (2001:292) argues that Practical Theology is by implication contextualized because it draws on the experience of ordinary believers (or teachers in this research) in their particular culture and historical situation. By encouraging the teachers (as believers) to engage in ongoing reflection and to contextualize this within the various communities in which they live, Practical Theology can empower teachers to rethink universal assumptions about teachers and open up new ways for them to approach their struggles.


The philosopher Richard Rorty (1979:5-14) disagrees with Anderson’s (2007:8) claim that ‘Language is an outward description of an internal process… [it] represents or mirrors Truths’ when he insists that language does not mirror the truth. Wittgenstein (1953:7) argues that language is not an outward description of an internal process and does not accurately describe what actually happened. He proposes instead that language allows us to describe and attribute meaning to what happens to us in this world. The language is thus useful and valuable people use it to describe events and thoughts. As the meaning of a word can be found in the process of understanding and searching, the process and the search in itself creates meaning. The process and search thus become the vehicle by which we try to understand and create meaning, and through which we form knowledge and understanding about ourselves, and the world. Language can therefore shape and limit our expressions and thoughts.
I concur with Gergen’s (2001:803-813) statement that ‘whatever exists simply exists irrespective of linguistic practices.’ The focus should thus be on the meaning of such existence and the consequent actions this existence informs when explained, described and interpreted. Or, following Anderson (2007:10): ‘We are always struggling with each other to understand the words we use, their meaning. We are always foreigners trying to learn the native’s local language.’


The process of transformation is different from that of ‘change’ which, in the psychotherapy field, often means a linear process. In other words, a person changes another person by changing from one thing to another. But in the view of knowledge and language discussed above, change as a linear process is not possible: each person uniquely interprets and responds to information. Bateson (1975:78) suggests that change is an epistemological error and that instructive interaction is impossible. Observer and information cannot influence systems in a predetermined way.
I prefer to use the word ‘transformation’ or ‘transforming’ instead of ‘change’ because ‘transformation’ reminds us of the fluid nature of language: we are never at a standstill. Our bodies, and the meanings we make in and through our bodies, are always in motion from the day we are born to the day we die. A sense of continuity still exists, in that we do not necessarily change from one person to another, but exist as different identities going forward. We therefore remain who we have been and still are, while at the same time we are becoming (Anderson 2007:11).
Transformation is also relational: it is something people do with each other. It nurtures the hope that human beings are resilient, that every person has potential and can contribute to their lives and relationships. Transformation implies that the researcher is also not only a causal agent of transformation, because in any research study, or the engagement in people’s lives, the researcher has a place or take a position in the research. According to Gadamer, the researcher cannot be ‘objective’, the researcher ‘participates in the very production of meaning via participation in the circle of readings or interpretations’ (Schwardt 1994:120).

CHAPTER 1: Introduction 
1.1. First things first: education
1.2. Motivation for the study
1.3. Narrative approach
1.4. Why teachers?
1.5. Research problem
1.6. Purpose of the research
1.7. Objectives of the study
1.8. Research question
1.9. Limitation of the study
1.10 Preliminary Literature review
1.11 Interpretive process
1.12 An African view
1.13 Proposed methodology
1.14 Validity and reliability of methods
1.15 Sampling techniques
1.16 Data analysis interpretation
1.17 Ethical considerations
1.18 Chapter layout
CHAPTER 2: Introduction 
2.1 Context of the study
2.2 An overview of teaching in South Africa
2.3 Well-being of teachers
2.4 The impact of stress and distress on teachers
2.5 No quick-fix: creating well-being spaces for teachers
2.6 Learning as ‘making a world’ versus Learning as ‘knowing a world’
2.7 Teachers as researchers
2.8 Teachers as pastoral counsellors
2.9 Jesus as teacher
2.10 Conclusion
CHAPTER 3: Introduction 
3.1 Postmodern umbrella
3.2 Social Construction
3.3 Postfoundational Theology
3.4 Interpretive Process
3.5 The world of narrative
3.6 Theoretical Orientation
3.7 An African view of Theology
3.8 A South African view
3.9 Conclusion
CHAPTER 4: Conceptual framework of research design and methodology 
4.1 The main features of the research and their relationships –Qualitative Research
4.2 Data collection methods
4.3 Conclusion
CHAPTER 5: Introduction 
5.1 Conceptualising of my data analysis
5.2 Qualitative research principles
5.3 Data analysis: making meaning
5.4 Coding methods
5.5 Reflexivity in research – ‘the interpretive crisis’
5.6 Narrative Analysis Approach
5.7 Were there any unique outcomes in the research?
5.8 Conclusion
CHAPTER 6: Introduction 
6.1 The Letsema Circle of healing
6.2 Model of well-being
6.3 Framing our ways of thinking
6.4 Hearing the researched
6.5 Narrative Pastoral counselling with teachers – de-constructing,re-constructing and co-constructing
6.6 Teaching as restorative community work
6.7 Beyond the possible
6.8 Conclusion
CHAPTER 7: Introduction 
7.1 Looking back on the research journey
7.2 Researcher’s reflections
7.3 Reflecting on the dominant discourses defining and operating in the lives of female teachers
7.4 Reflecting on spirituality as unique outcome
7.5 Reflecting on narrative approach
7.6 Recommendations for further research with teachers using narrative  approach
7.7 Reflections on Practical Theology
7.8 Conclusion
7.8 A Final say
8 Bibiography 

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