Louise Dearden

MA Education TEFL dissertation prize winner 2016


"I just want to talk to the children and see how they are’: A narrative inquiry into the role of moral values in primary language teachers’ lives.

I am delighted to have been chosen as one of this year’s recipients for the Dissertation Prize. The subject of my research is one I feel deeply passionate about so it gratifying to have my work acknowledged. Of course, I can’t take all the credit; I am indebted to my supervisor and the lecturers for their continued inspiration. They fostered a sense of curiosity in us all, encouraging us to challenge common stereotypes in the world of TEFL and to discover for ourselves what really matters. On a personal level, I have had the most rewarding and enjoyable experience; I have had the opportunity to spend a year immersed in a subject I love, debating with like-minded individuals who have now become good friends. Although I had been teaching for over 20 years, I had much to learn and I still do. My time at University of Birmingham and eventual success at achieving an MA has opened many doors and  given me the confidence to pursue further study  - it’s never too late to learn!


Teachers’ knowledge has been reconceptualised in both general and second language education. It is now understood that in addition to content and pedagogical knowledge, teachers draw on a host of mental constructs to do their jobs well. One such construct is teachers’ sense of morality. Yet, despite widespread agreement that teaching is a value-laden activity and moral values are the ‘essence of all teaching’ (Johnston, 2003:1), there is little empirical evidence of this. This study addresses the gap in the literature by exploring teachers’ moral values at the interface of two fields of education: mainstream primary and second language teaching. Through narrative inquiry teachers revealed how tacit moral values shape their approach to teaching. Qualitative analytical methods were employed to interpret teachers’ narratives. The key finding was that teachers feel a sense of moral responsibility towards their learners which is demonstrated in the desire to care. When teachers are prevented from caring they experience a range of negative emotions. Further empirical inquiry into the moral dimensions of teaching in more diverse contexts is essential to deepen understanding of the reality of the job. Dissemination of such research would inform decisions made by policy-makers and institutions thus benefitting all stakeholders.