This study takes place in Chile, where neoliberal policies have framed teachers’ work, prioritising individualism and competition over collaborative experiences and collegial dialogue. Challenging such a reality, from a Freirean positioning of science education, this critical ethnography explores how science educators’ agency can be strengthened through participation in a teacher-led community outside of their workplace.
I draw on a Community of Practice theoretical framework and, philosophically, I embrace the work of Paulo Freire to explore what teachers identify as limiting their agency, as well as how they hope beyond such limits through agentic praxis. Methodologically, through a critical ethnography approach, I participated in meetings of two teacher-led communities in the city of Valparaiso for four months, facilitated one focus group with each, and conducted biographical interviews to produce data which was analysed through a critical narrative analysis approach.
The findings of this study show that the participants encountered a hegemonic culture of science education characterised by a strong demarcation between being a teacher and a scientist, setting limits to their identities. This demarcation led to a hierarchisation of knowledges with a dismissive attitude towards pedagogy and the prevalence of banking pedagogies and relationships. Moreover, neoliberal values have strengthened such banking pedagogies, resulting in the de-professionalisation of teaching. Nevertheless, the findings also show that the communities to which participant teachers belong, act as spaces for cultivating hope and rethinking science education, strengthening teachers’ agency with the field. As such, they have reclaimed their agency by challenging expert discourse using their free time for collaboration and practising epistemological humility. Furthermore, they
have broken the culture of silence that dominates the field by building a culture of professional dialogue and active listening. This new culture they created resulted in placing collaboration over individualism, moving from a fragmented and strongly insulated view of the field to a transdisciplinary worldview.
Moreover, by having their communities out of the workplace, they have expanded the possibilities for science education, authoring themselves as a community of science teachers embracing the hybridity of their identities as science educators and overcoming the hegemonic imposed dichotomy.
Finally, the teachers extended such agency outside of the community context by reinterpreting the relationship they have with the science curriculum, widening spaces for participation and facilitating spaces for agency for them, their students, and colleagues.
This study contributes theoretically to the communities of practice framework in praxis and
problematises the static notion of periphery and centre. It also contributes to a conceptualisation of agency in Freirean terms, considering the historicity of the context and the dialectical dynamics between agency and identity.
By exploring agency in the context of teacher-led communities, this study highlights the need for teachers’ time to be managed by themselves in order to advance in spaces where science educators can define and revise what counts as science education, its values, norms, practices, and relationships.
This study problematises the politics of teacher education, and the need to revise its curriculums in terms of what types of knowledges are privileged over others and how (or not) they interact with each other. Furthermore, this study problematises the notion of “the teacher” in order to raise its ontoepistemic status as an intellectual agent that inhabits the periphery and the centre of science education, in a constant search for being more fully human, expanding possibilities to be within the field.