While much research is devoted to what it is teachers do, there is far less known about why teachers do the things they do. This is particularly true in the area of mathematics teacher change where, despite an abundance of literature on ways to think about and facilitate change in mathematics teaching practice, a lack of meaningful change in practice is an ongoing concern. This dissertation explores this gap through a qualitative analysis of tension experienced by fourteen teachers engaged in implementing change in their mathematics practice. Viewing teachers as tension managers whose actions are shaped by an undercurrent of uncertainty, offers insight into the ‘why’ behind their actions; it allows for a focus on the process of change in practice, rather than the product. The study uses theoretical constructs of teacher change and teacher agency to position teachers as arbiters of change, responsible for their own growth. Using a hermeneutic phenomenology approach, data collection was conducted in three distinct phases and comprised interviews with, written reflections by, and classroom observations of, groups of teachers at various stages of change. Using a form of emergent coding, data was first analysed for contexts which held potential for change. These were then re-examined for tension using emotion and hedging as indicators of uncertainty. The results indicate that teachers experience internal and external tension that can both trigger and impede meaningful change in mathematics teaching practice. This is dependent not only on the context, but also on the quality of tension, as two types (useful tension and productive tension) are identified and explored for their potential to impact change. Furthermore, the data supports the view that managing tension in change is an agential response. Two management strategies are articulated: living with tension and resolving tension. Finally, the presence of unacknowledged virtual tension was hypothesized as an impediment to the achievement of meaningful change.
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Thesis advisor: Liljedahl, Peter
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