Theses Doctoral

Educators in Emergencies: The Lived Experiences and Professional Identities of Refugee and National Teachers in South Sudan and Uganda

Falk, Danielle Lorber

Though the world is experiencing unprecedented, persistent crises, there remains little empirical research on teachers working amidst such crises. The small but foundational literature on teachers in crisis contexts within the field of Education in Emergencies has explored the lived experiences of teachers, paying particular attention to how their gender, displacement status, and participation in professional development activities, among other factors, influence teachers’ identities, well-being, and teaching practice. However, this scholarship rarely engages with broader educational literature on teachers, particularly the development of their professional identity, which encompasses teachers’ approaches, actions, and attitudes towards the profession.

Further, the teacher literature from stable contexts, mostly in the Global North (e.g., North America, Europe, Oceania), does not engage with research on teachers working amidst conflict, crisis, and displacement. This lack of engagement limits comprehensive understanding of what it means to be a teacher, including how teachers perceive and enact their work—a worrying limitation, given the central role teachers play in implementing quality education.

Bridging this divide, this researcher drew on these bodies of literature to explore the roles, responsibilities, and identities of teachers over the course of their lives who live and work amidst protracted conflict, recurrent migration, and forced displacement on both sides of the border in refugee-producing and refugee-receiving communities.

This study also extended this scholarship by centering the experiences of teachers as essential actors within education systems as opposed to including them peripherally as key stakeholders within broader educational inquiry. Utilizing ethnographic and narrative methods, the researcher conducted this 5-month qualitative study to examine how protracted conflict, recurrent migration, and forced displacement influence the lived experiences and professional identities of national and refugee primary school teachers in Palabek refugee settlement in northern Uganda and Torit in Eastern Equatoria State in South Sudan. Findings from this study demonstrated teachers’ reluctant pathways to, complex experiences in, and future plans for remaining in or leaving the profession.

Further, findings demonstrated an abiding paradox: the glorification of education as a panacea for social malady alongside the devaluing of the central actor in delivering education—the teacher. Thus, the findings not only contribute to theoretical and empirical research on teacher identity and teachers in crisis contexts, but they also encourage practitioners and policymakers to improve support to teachers across stable and crisis contexts alike.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Comparative and International Education
Thesis Advisors
Mendenhall, Mary
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 11, 2023