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Performative Praxis

Teacher Identity and Teaching in the Context of HIV/AIDS

Mary Jean Baxen

It is widely recognized that the South African government’s exemplary HIV/AIDS education policy is not making the behaviour-changing impact that it ought. Why is this? What is actually happening in the school classroom?
In this book, Jean Baxen makes an important contribution towards understanding the complex interface between the HIV/AIDS education curriculum and what and how teachers are teaching in the classroom. Bringing Judith Butler’s theory of performativity to bear in an analysis of the pedagogic practice of a number of teachers in the Western Cape and Mpumalanga, the author shows how teachers’ personal conception of their role and identity as educators plays a vitally important role in filtering and shaping the classroom transmission of key information and attitudes.


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Introduction 47


47 Introduction Attempting to understand factors shaping how teachers in two regions of South Africa understand, experience and teach sexuality and HIV/AIDS required first asking broader questions about how teachers actually come to know who they are and how this knowing is instantiated in social practice. Questions about how this knowing influences their experiences and teaching about sexuality and HIV/AIDS became particularly perti- nent. The study worked from the premise that what teachers do in the classroom is not neutral; that what they do with the subject content goes beyond merely delivering it to fulfil externally determined outcomes. The assumption was that teachers teach from particular subject positions in- fluenced by how they understand themselves as individuals, as teachers and as members of different groups (family, school, professional, commu- nity, religious, etc.) within society. Importantly, too, this work was prem- ised on the notion that the curriculum and teacher’s work are complexly intertwined and that each operates reflexively to produce the other. Any question, therefore, about how and what teachers teach invoked broader questions about the constituted nature of ‘the teacher.’ Trying to explain teachers and their work required some explanation of the constituted nature of identity; in particular, subject formation, subjectivity and sub- ject positioning. As I proceeded, what became apparent was the need to explain (a) how teachers come to know and understand themselves, (b) how this knowing is shaped by layers of influence (social and cultural) that is sometimes but not always hierarchically constituted, and (c) the...

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