Supervisors: Ülle Pärli, Senior Lecturer (University of Tartu); Mari Karm, Senior Lecturer (University of Tartu)
Opponent: Professor Jaan Valsiner (Aalborg University, Denmark); Professor Tiina Ann Kirss (Tallinn University)
University can fulfil one of its major tasks- providing modern and quality higher education only with the help of a key person of this process- a university teacher. It might often happen that people who hold academic positions at universities do no perceive teaching as a valuable activity; neither do they define themselves first and foremost as a teacher. The aim of the current thesis is to analyse the descriptions provided by the teachers of the University of Tartu that outline what aspects and in what way support or hinder their self-determination as a teacher. Theoretical research claims that (professional) self-determination is a continuous process that is influenced by experience gained in different roles, perceived expectations regarding the professional role that come from outside and the meaning one attaches to the above mentioned notions. The meanings that are perceived as valuable form the vision of a professional ideal of an individual. The particular vision starts acting as an objective to be achieved internally. Attaching meaning to experience takes place in the continuous communication and acknowledgement process. Communication in the work environment plays the leading role in the process. The current thesis researches the descriptions of how teachers ideally visualise themselves, what experience had led to the formation of such ideals and to what extent the ideal corresponds to their existing characteristics. The research reveals that mainly personal characteristics, subject-specific knowledge and teaching skills are focused on while describing ideals. The centre of importance changes in time and under the influence of experience gained in different roles. For instance, the growth of teaching experience attaches more importance on the quality of teaching skills. Experience in the field of training or mentoring support the development of self-analysis and therefore teachers with such experience attach more importance to developing as a teacher. Generally teachers concluded that ideals describe their existing potential or something that they already possess but could be developed further. This supports the argument that one could research self-determination, i.e. identity, on the bases of ideals described. Self-determination actualises through self-reflection, i.e. attaching meanings to the activity and existence, and discussing one's work and its meaning. Therefore, the current thesis pays special attention on whether and what kind of support teachers experience in acknowledging their activity and realising their self-determination. As the research has its roots in university teacher training, then aspects analysed are related to the influence of participation in a learning group onto university teacher identity and perception of how supportive is the proximate working environment at the institution. The interviews administered reveal that they experience a feeling in their working unit that teaching is not a valuable activity and nobody except themselves is particularly interested in the issue. This kind of situation does not support their teaching activity or being a teacher. This could be alleviated by participation in a learning group where one can discuss the development of teaching skills or being a university teacher, attach meaning to it and where one can experience support and understanding of other colleagues that participate in a learning group. As conceptions prevailing in the proximate working environment are often affected by stated rules and requirements of an organisation, the thesis also weighs whether the stated rules and requirements of the University of Tartu support and value a university teacher and his activity. It appears that although students expect high quality teaching from university teachers, the official documentation of September 2012 mainly focus on quantitative data of teaching activity. It is mostly evaluated on the basis of teaching hours, numbers of students and published scientific articles. This situation does not support substantive valuing of teaching and it could be concluded that being a university teacher is not supported as the quality of teaching does not affect the fate of a university teacher. By today steps have been taken towards evaluating the quality of teaching at the university, though by the time of conducting the current research, these changes have not come into force yet. In conclusion it could be said that the current research proves that university teachers describe characteristics related to their professional self-determination in their visions of ideal. Unfortunately they experience lack of colleagues to discuss teaching in their proximate work environment and therefore their professional self-determination is hindered. Partly it is due to the general way of thinking that teaching is solely the responsibility of a university teacher. Though, participation in teacher training allows discussion with colleagues and their support.