May 7, 2021


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Teachers with so-called migration background and the question of recognition: Experiences of fragility and hidden pedagogical potentials


In Switzerland, it has for a long time been very uncommon to find teachers with a family origin beyond national borders (Mantel, 2017). However, with increasing mobility and migration during the last decades – particularly within Europe – the number of teachers with so-called migration background has grown. Currently, the student population in pre-service teacher education consists of 16% with ‘migration background’1 (Bundesamt für Statistik, 2015) and the statistical data indicate a rising tendency (Bundesamt für Statistik, 2019a). Although this may seem like a large proportion, it appears rather small when compared to the student population at university level with 31% (Bundesamt für Statistik, 2015) or to the resident population of Switzerland with a share of 37.5% with ‘migration background’ (Bundesamt für Statistik, 2019b). Switzerland is no exception in this regard, as small shares of pre-service and in-service teachers with migration or minority background can be found all across Europe. Donlevy et al. (2016) have found that the underrepresentation appears to be particularly high – that is, the share being less than half that of the student population – in countries with relatively larger migrant populations such as Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Portugal or the United Kingdom; while the underrepresentation tends to be lower – the share being at least two-thirds that of the student population – in countries with relatively smaller migrant populations such as Hungary, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia or Romania. However, they also state that data is overall very limited and the comparability is difficult due to differences in the definitions and indicators being used. According to the authors, the low shares of teachers with migration history can partly be explained by a number of barriers to accessing and remaining in the teaching profession (see also information by Rose and Terhart in the introduction to this issue), while political measures have been relatively small-scale in general and gaps remain, particularly concerning more structural and affirmative approaches to increase teacher diversity (Donlevy et al., 2016: 11).

While this overall underrepresentation raises questions about the recognition of teachers with migration history in the various education systems, there is also the question on whether these changes bring about new potentials for the teaching profession: teachers who may have experienced challenges or opportunities through migration may have developed a potential in dealing with migration-related diversity in schools. Studies have shown that there are indeed numerous indications for a pedagogical potential among some of the teachers, such as an increased awareness of social inequalities or a special commitment to act as a role model for students with migration experience (Mantel, 2017; Mantel and Leutwyler, 2013; Santoro, 2015). However, many questions have remained open. One of them is the question of who precisely does or does not develop what kind of potential and how this potential is translated into pedagogical orientations. The presented study therefore tackles this research gap by asking about the interconnectedness of teachers’ biographical experiences and their pedagogical orientations, focussing on the following aspects:

  • What kind of biographical experiences do teachers with so-called migration background have, particularly concerning the questions of recognition?

  • What pedagogical orientations do they have in dealing with migration-related student diversity and the students’ recognition?

  • How are the biographical experiences connected to the pedagogical orientations?

Theoretical framework: theory of recognition

These questions will be answered and discussed from the theoretical perspective of Honneth’s (1995) theory of recognition, which Helsper and Lingkost (2002) have partly translated into the pedagogical context. Special attention will be given to those aspects that become especially relevant in a migration context. This theoretical framing has proven to be rewarding in the data analysis of the presented study as it appears to be very close and fitting to the respondents’ experiences and reflections. Additionally, it allows for adequate differentiation and convincingly elaborates the challenges that teachers face when they attempt to realise recognition and when they need to address aspects that are contradictory in their basic demand structure. The main features of this theoretical approach will now be outlined.

Honneth (1995: 131) shows in his theory that the experience of recognition is essential to self-realisation and that ‘human integrity owes its existence, at a deep level’, to this very experience. Recognition, however, cannot – according to Honneth – be experienced through self-knowledge or introspection but requires a reciprocal process with another. Following Hegel (1979 [1802/3)] and Mead (1934), Honneth stresses the fact that the experience of recognition is fundamentally intersubjective (Honneth, 1995: 92–130). Accordingly, the strength of this theory lies in its ability to explain recognition in terms of significant interactive processes and to elaborate these processes concerning three different ‘spheres of interaction’ (Honneth, 1995: 95). These spheres are firstly ‘love’, the mode of recognition being emotional support; secondly, ‘rights’ with the mode of ‘cognitive respect’; and finally ‘solidarity’ with ‘social esteem’ as its mode of recognition (Honneth, 1995: 129). Each of them will now be further explained and reflected in the light of their relevance for students and teachers in a migration context.

  1. Recognition in the sphere of ‘love’ refers to interactions within primary relationships such as between parent and child or between lovers, ‘constituted by strong emotional attachments among a small number of people’ (Honneth, 1995: 95). It is about physical and emotional needs being met by others, which enables the development of basic self-confidence and constitutes ‘the precondition for the development of all further attitudes of self-respect’ (Honneth, 1995: 107, 129). As this kind of recognition is ideally being realised in primary relationships, it lies only to a certain extent within the responsibility of schools and teachers. However, Helsper and Lingkost (2002) point out that a productive work agreement between teacher and student also relies on a certain level of mutual trust, while the building of such a work agreement is not supported – and may even be impeded – by the schools’ structure of compulsory education and coercion. Consequently, the building of trust may require special efforts by the teachers and all actors involved (Helsper, 2002: 72–74; Helsper et al., 2001: 32).

  2. Recognition in the sphere of ‘rights’ and in the mode of ‘cognitive respect’ refers to a mutual mode of recognition ‘in which the individual learns to see himself from the perspective of his (or her) partner in interaction as a bearer of equal rights’ (Honneth, 1992: 194). ‘Equality’ is the crucial aspect in this regard as this kind of recognition is strictly understood as symmetrical and egalitarian. According to Honneth (1995), experiencing equal rights enables an individual to develop self-respect, while experiencing denial of rights or exclusion threatens an individual’s social integrity (Honneth, 1995: 107–121).

    While the firstly mentioned kind of recognition does not entirely belong to the responsibilities of schools, this recognition in equal rights is stressed by Helsper and Lingkost (2002) to be a central aspect of its remit. The authors state that equal educational chances and equal participation irrespective of differences such as gender or national, ethnic, religious or socioeconomic origin are essentially important for successful socialisation and education (Helsper and Lingkost, 2002: 133–134). This kind of recognition is not only significant in educational settings in general, but highly relevant in the migration context in particular. Large-scale assessments of educational achievements have repeatedly revealed disadvantages among those with migration background and low socioeconomic status (Schweizerische Koordinationsstelle für Bildungsforschung (SKBF; Swiss Coordination Centre for Research in Education, 2014, 2018). While the causes for these inequalities are highly complex and diverse (Beck and Jäpel, 2019; Schweizerischer Wissenschaftsrat, 2018), some of them can be seen in the fact that educational institutions function according to inherent norms that privilege those who correspond with these norms and deprivilege those who do not. Such norms can, for instance, be found in the expectation that parents are able to support their children in their homework, which usually privileges middle- or upper-class families with only one working parent whose family language is the same as the school language (Dirim and Mecheril, 2010: 127–136; Gomolla, 2011: 188). Disadvantaging effects can also occur through structural settings like age-group classes, late school enrolment, early and frequent selection or neglecting multilingualism (Leiprecht and Lutz, 2015; Schader, 2012: 21; Schweizerischer Wissenschaftsrat, 2018). Against this background, it becomes apparent that teachers cannot achieve equal chances through simple equal treatment. Rather, unequal treatment may be necessary in order to compensate for various disadvantages and to take different preconditions into account (Dirim and Mecheril, 2010: 128–136; Helsper and Lingkost, 2002: 134). Unequal treatment, however, runs the risk of teachers orienting themselves on stereotypes or prejudice. It has been found to be common among teachers that they expect students with low socioeconomic status or labour migration background to perform generally lower than their classmates. Apart from the problem that such a bias affects performance appraisals and selection decisions, it can also be internalised by students who consequently develop a low confidence in their ability to be academically successful (Hofstetter, 2017; Kronig, 2003, 2007). Accordingly, they do not experience the recognition as bearer of equal rights that Honneth is pointing out to be so crucial.

  3. Honneth (1992: 121–130) calls the third sphere of recognition ‘solidarity’ and its mode ‘social esteem’. While the former sphere refers to the experience of being recognised as equal, this sphere means the experience of being recognised as different from others, in one’s individual traits and abilities, more precisely in those traits and abilities that contribute to realising culturally negotiated values. Recognition in this sense means to esteem one another by viewing ‘one another in the light of values that allow the abilities and traits of the other to appear significant for shared praxis’ (Honneth, 1992: 122). According to Honneth (1992) it is this recognition in one’s value for society that allows self-esteem to be developed, which then again is the prerequisite for building communities of value and solidarity (129). By contrast, if this recognition is not experienced, it leads to a feeling of denigration or insult and effects an individual’s sense of dignity. Regarding the significance in the school and teaching context, Helsper and Lingkost (2002) point out that the recognition of individual traits and abilities has high educational relevance, while, at the same time, attempting to realise it can be challenging: not all traits, abilities, interests, talents and lifestyles are equally appreciated in a society. Rather, they are in a constant process of negotiation and struggle over what attributes or achievements are to be qualified as higher or lower, while these struggles are tightly entangled in prevailing power relations. According to Helsper and Lingkost (2002: 136–137), in productive school cultures the actors have developed an awareness of these struggles and power structures and do not unreflectingly replicate them. Instead, they aim at acknowledging differences in a way that students can experience genuine resonance for their individual uniqueness, with their abilities, traits and life orientations that are important to them. Like the formerly discussed mode of recognition, this mode is also particularly relevant in the migration context as migration-related differences such as those connected to national, ethnic or religious origin are strongly exposed to the societal processes of negotiation and struggle. Highlighting them in the school context can easily be understood as a reproduction of common prejudice and negative connotation, which can lead to the opposite effect from the intended. The addressed students may experience subtle denigration or stigmatisation rather than appreciative attention and resonance on their individuality (Balzer, 2007; Mecheril, 2005).

All three modes of recognition require a high level of reflectivity by teachers, especially as they are contradictory in their demand structure such as, on the one hand, emphasising the students’ equality, and on the other hand highlighting their individuality and uniqueness. Helsper (2002: 95) states that an appropriate way of dealing with such contradictory demands depends on the teachers’ ability to reflect and to find a productive ‘fit’ between – on the one hand – their own self in the context of their biography and – on the other hand – their professional pedagogical orientation and way of acting.

The presented study scrutinises these very connections between biographical experiences and pedagogical orientations and shows that there is indeed a ‘fit’ to be found, that this ‘fit’ differs from type to type and that it can be more or less reflected and productive in terms of realising recognition in the school context.

Methodology: biographical, qualitative-hermeneutical

Investigating teachers with so-called migration background brings about some methodological challenges. One of them is the danger of essentialising and ascribing a certain ‘background’ or ‘belonging’ to the respondents while presupposing it as relevant for their life stories. This way, a circular argumentation structure would be created: a certain national or ethnic background would turn out to be significant while this very background has been brought in as relevant from the outset of the research process and by the researchers themselves. In order to avoid this effect, a methodological approach was chosen, that allows these questions of relevance to remain open. Instead, the respondents are merely asked whether they would be ready to tell their life stories. Whether or not certain backgrounds or certain national or ethnic belongings have become significant to them is left to their own perspective, while other social categories that may have become momentous such as gender, socioeconomic status or religious orientation – possibly in their intertwining (Crenshaw, 1991) – can also be articulated by the respondents and included in the analysis.

The data was collected through biographical-narrative interviews according to Schütze (1983). The sample was structured along ‘theoretical sampling’ according to Glaser and Strauss (1998), which means that the sample is developed gradually while analysing the so far generated data and continuously searching for new contrasting cases with aspects that will contribute to the emerging theory and to the construction of ‘ideal types’ (Weber, 1988). This process is pursued until a ‘saturation’ of the data is found. In the presented study, at first, distinctions were made regarding whether the respondents’ parents had migrated to Switzerland, then by the aspects of skin colour and ‘foreign-sounding’ surnames. Later, aspects of age and years of teaching practice were identifiers, as well as the question of teaching in an urban-immigrant or in a rural-non-immigrant context. Furthermore, socioeconomic upward or downward mobility turned out to be important and became part of the theoretical sampling process. Saturation was found after 19 cases. Nineteen teachers told their life stories in relatively long interviews of several hours, divided into two meetings. The research refers to primary school teachers who have been socialised and educated in the German-speaking part of Switzerland.

The data was analysed with a hermeneutical approach according to Schütze (1983, 2016), adding insights provided by Rosenthal (1995, 2018). The analytical scheme by Schütze has been chosen, as it directs attention not only to aspects of ‘active behaving’ (‘aktives Handeln’) in the analysis of autobiographical narrative interviews, but also to those aspects that are often underemphasised in biographical research, namely those aspects, moments and times in which individuals are not able to take action, but are only able to endure what is happening, which Schütze calls ‘reactive suffering’ (‘reaktives Erleiden’).2 This distinction is particularly rewarding for the research interest presented here as it allows a differentiated analyses of the teachers’ ways of dealing with difference and recognition, which include moments of enduring, of ‘non-acting’ (‘nicht-handeln’) or – using Schütze’s terminology – of ‘suffering’ (‘erleiden’). In addition to Schütze’s methodology, elaborations by Rosenthal (1995, 2018) were consulted. She has pointed out – in accordance to Schütze – that autobiographical narration is not a one-to-one depiction of a person’s life history and that the analyses can improve significantly when the relations between experiencing, remembering and narrating are well understood. Her methodological elaborations in this regard have informed the analytical process of this research and enabled reflected hermeneutical interpretations.3

Results: three ideal types

Through the analytical process, three ‘ideal types’ (Weber, 1988) could be constructed from the empirical material and will now be presented. The presentation is organised along specific cases; however, this does not mean that the analysis and the construction of the types builds on these single stories. The analytical process has taken all interview data into account, analysing them and reflecting on them from different theoretical angles and on different levels of abstraction, which allowed identification of typical structures. In accordance with Weber (1988), these typical structures appear in more or less sharp versions and they also appear as combining different types (see details in Mantel, 2017). In the following sections, the three types are each shown with an example that has relatively sharp contours, while the abstract construction of the respective ideal type is presented consequently.

Type A is oriented on ‘striving towards appreciation for all’. Its typical interconnected aspects in the life story and in the pedagogical orientation will be described through the case of Lucas Benito (all names are pseudonyms. Additionally, all names of places or institutions and all pieces of information that might violate privacy rights have been changed):

Lucas Benito grows up in a neighbourhood of labour migrants, his own parents having migrated from Spain to Switzerland for economic reasons. From his childhood on, he experiences multiple national/ethnic belongings as he is close to his Spanish relatives as well as to his circle of friends in Switzerland. This circle of friends is diverse consisting of ‘Swiss’ peers as well as peers from the labour migration milieu. Being seen as a child of labour migrants, he and some of his friends experience fragile recognition, as they cannot rely on an equal right to belong to the Swiss society. Rather, they latently have to defend their being-here. Some of them are even openly offended and beaten up by people with a far-right attitude, which Lucas Benito experiences as a witness. He deals with these experiences by decisively paying appreciative attention to all kind of stories of origin and migration, intending to compensate for negative connotations, regardless whether negative comments are mentioned explicitly, implicitly or only potentially. For instance, he tells a story about his ‘Turkish friend’ – interestingly always emphasising the place of origin – who once invited him to join her and her family after Ramadan for the meal of fast-breaking and introducing him to her family tradition. He also talks about his ‘Albanian friend’ who had experienced the war when he was a child, or about his ‘Congolese, Black friend’ with his talent for hip-hop and breakdance. Lucas Benito has a high sensitivity for subtle forms of exclusion and denigration and counteracts by deliberately conveying appreciation and dignity. At the same time, he does not allow the dynamic to be turned on its head so that the excluded become the excluding, but he rather strives in a balancing manner for appreciation for all, while he emphasises how important it is to be polite and to accept others:

‘I think it is something very beautiful to be polite and to accept others and this actually only works if one is, yes, if one is let’s say content with oneself . . . I would say I’m tolerant. I am a good listener and I think it’s important, too.’ (Interview 5b, Z. 1149–1153)

Generally speaking, this type experiences fragile recognition as equal, not being able to rely on an unquestioned belonging to the society. As this belonging is questioned by referring to a migration history, there is also a subtle experience of devaluation. However, this type is able to exercise some influence and does this by counterbalancing negative connotation by positively emphasising all places of origin and all particularities that are connected to them. Typically, this dynamic is taking place in the context of labour migration, which means in the intersection of ‘migration background’ and low socioeconomic status.

The pedagogical orientation of Lucas Benito is strongly connected to his life story: as he is so sensitive to negative ascriptions and so interested in diversity issues, he purposely chooses an urban immigrant milieu as a working environment. As he does in his private life, he deals with difference in a very appreciative way in the role of a teacher as well. This attitude becomes especially apparent in his way of dealing with languages: Lucas Benito uses the different languages of his students as resources for language reflection and his own diverse language competences for conversations with parents whenever he finds it to be feasible and useful. As a minimum – he says – he welcomes parents in their family language and, if he is not familiar with the phrase, he asks the respective student to teach it to him. While Lucas Benito points out his students’ different places of origin, he is also aware of the fact that this pointing out can easily lead to an inappropriate exposing and possibly also to a stigmatisation. He therefore intervenes when the students’ conversations on differences take a denigrating direction.

While he has a sensitive way of effectively appreciating the various differences among his students, he also experiences some restrictions. He is constantly alert around ‘Swiss’ parents and around his teacher colleagues as he knows from experience that he has to expect sceptical attitudes towards him as a teacher with ‘migration background’. He is therefore cautious to be especially attentive and polite towards them. He assumes that if he had not chosen an urban immigrant neighbourhood but a rural non-immigrant environment he would need to be even more alert and attentive. Moreover, while he fosters this modest and self-effacing way for himself, he advises his students with migration history to do the same: they too should be particularly polite and modest and they should not overestimate their position, as ‘they were the immigrants after all’.

The structure of this type consists of – from a perspective of the theory of recognition – resources on one side and restrictions on the other side. Resources are developed regarding the recognition in being different and unique as this type is strong in appreciatively emphasising migration-related difference – and difference in general – while consciously avoiding its potentially stigmatising effects. Restrictions, however, come from the experiences that one has to be extraordinarily polite and attentive in order to be accepted as a teacher ‘with migration background’ and to transfer this experience to the students ‘with migration background’ by telling them not to overestimate their possibilities and to restrain themselves by being self-effacing and modest. This does not mean that the advice to be modest cannot have some positive effects. Knowing as a teacher what it means to experience some restrictions or to encounter barriers can be supportive to students who may experience something similar. However, the analysis has shown that there can also be a negative effect. There is a meaningful connection in this typical structure between – on the one hand – own attitudes of being particularly modest and – on the other hand – advising students to be modest, not to expect too much and not to overestimate their possibilities. This is very different from type C – as will be shown – that has a high commitment to encouraging students from underprivileged backgrounds to think beyond self-restraining ideas of what may be possible and achievable for them. In contrast, a teacher of type A tends to see barriers as given and runs the risk of students not being supported in developing self-confidence in their abilities and not being encouraged to live their full potential. With such an effect, the recognition as being equal in terms of claiming equal educational chances would not be fully realised.

Type B is oriented on a ‘struggle against social exclusion’.

Tom Branković experiences in his childhood physical and emotional violence with reference to his parents’ Serbian origin. During his first years at school, he is repeatedly ambushed by peers who insult him and beat him up for being ‘Serbian’, while he does not get any help or support from his parents or teachers. At school, he often feels offended, laughed at and humiliated by his classmates. At first, defending himself seems futile. Later, he undertakes various attempts. He tries to defend his belonging by – for instance – stressing his accent-free language-speaking. Then, he emphasises his independent individuality that could not be allocated to any national or ethnic group. However, his approaches do not lead to a satisfying social positioning, and the struggle against social exclusion becomes a dominant biographical orientation, while he continuously experiences devaluing comments on his Serbian origin:

(Y)ou are just being ascribed to a certain ethnic group because of your surname . . . and one doesn’t like you . . . you can explain it to them as much as you like . . . they just attach it to you! (Interview 6a, Z. 458–469)

Generally, this type experiences denigration in the context of migration and a kind of social exclusion that seems almost impossible to influence or to effectively react to. These experiences are so deeply disturbing that they become a major issue in this type’s life story. It is typical that the excluding rhetoric is pursued by means of those categories and ascriptions that are socially charged with negative connotation such as the ascription of being ‘Serbian’ in the years of the 1990s.

In the case of Tom Branković too, the biographical experiences closely link to his pedagogical orientation. During his secondary school years as well as in his pre-service teacher education, he intensely studies social mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion and likes to discuss the great philosophical questions of justice and equity. In his role as a teacher, he uses this interest and his knowledge to initiate lively philosophical conversations with his class, and he is very attentive that none of his students experiences devaluation or more or less subtle social exclusion by his or her classmates. At the same time, his vulnerability in his own belonging persists. Consequently, he avoids everything connected to ‘migration’ or ‘Serbian’ for fear of provoking offence against himself. While he proactively discusses questions of belonging regarding gender or physical abilities, he avoids talking about migration-related diversity. He ignores his students’ migration-related language resources or interests and prioritises not jeopardising his own social position. For the same reason, he takes on a decisively leading role towards his students as well as towards their parents.

Similarly to type A, this type has also – from a perspective of the theory of recognition – resources as well as restrictions: there are clearly resources in a very high sensitivity to questions of social belonging and in being committed to realise the students’ recognition in terms of their right to equal participation. The restrictions derive from the constant concern about his or her own social position. This concern leads to avoiding all migration-related issues including the students’ respective resources or interests. This way, the students may not experience resonance on migration-related aspects that may be important to them in terms of experiencing recognition in their individuality and uniqueness.

Type C has its main orientation on ‘self-determined belonging through upward mobility’.

Sabrina Monti Giordano experiences a shattered family situation in her childhood. Her parents migrate from Italy to Switzerland, striving for an economically better future for themselves and their children. At the time, the migration circumstances are very difficult as migrants are politically expected to return to their places of origin after having fulfilled their working contract. Sabrina’s parents cannot rely on a long-term work and residence permit and therefore work very long hours, while they give her from an early age into the hands of foster parents. Sabrina likes these parents as well as her time at school and is very unhappy when she and her mother have to return to Italy when she is 15 years old. She decides to take matters into her own hands and, when she turns 18, she packs her suitcase, takes a train to Switzerland, finds a job to earn money, convinces the Swiss educational authorities to accept her Italian Matura certificate, goes into teacher education and, by becoming a teacher, gains the kind of independence and freedom that she had hoped for:

It has been a strenuous time. On the one hand it was super because I was alone and free, on the other hand I had to work a lot to be able to finance this. But it was good, a good time. (Interview 10a, Z. 205–209)

The typical pattern that can be found in Sabrina Monti Giordano’s story – and equally in a range of other cases – is someone with a labour migration background developing an active momentum from being unhappy or unsatisfied with his or her life circumstances, resulting in social upward mobility by becoming a teacher. This upward mobility becomes highly significant in this person’s life story. Interestingly, the question of belonging is not subject to struggles after having achieved this upward mobility. Instead, the structures of belonging are much more self-determined; for instance, by actively deciding on the circle of friends and on preferences regarding national or ethnic belongings.

As in the formerly outlined cases, Sabrina Monti Giordano’s pedagogical orientation is also interlinked with her life story. She is very strongly committed to supporting and enabling educational success for all students, particularly for those who come from underprivileging family conditions. She has high expectations for her students’ educational performance, does not hesitate to demand engaged studying from them as well as support from their parents, uses her language resources to communicate where it seems useful and does not feel exposed for having a ‘migration background’. She has experienced herself that success is possible if there is a will to study and conveys this optimism to her students. However, she also had to distance herself from her family and her family origin in order to be successful. Regarding her students, she would also like them to distance themselves from what she regards as hindering family traditions. She generally regards migration-related attachments as rather problematic and assimilation to the Swiss society as a promising way to a successful career.

From a point of view of the theory of recognition, again some resources and some restrictions can be defined: there are resources in this type’s high expectations regarding student performance and in a strong optimism concerning their potential, particularly towards those students who tend to be disadvantaged. These aspects are – as has been shown under point 2 – crucial for the realisation of recognition as being equal and in providing equal educational chances. Some restrictions, however, come from the conviction that educational success can only be achieved by distancing oneself from migration-related attachments and milieus. With such a pedagogical orientation, students may not experience recognition as being different and unique; instead, they may even experience that their family traditions and lifestyles are generally devalued.

These three outlined structures of typically connected aspects and particularities (see overview in Table 1) were confirmed in all of the 19 respondents, sometimes in combined versions and some of them in stronger expression than others. The strongest expression was generally found in those cases in which having a so-called migration background is combined with an originally low socioeconomic status, which is generally found in the cases of labour migration.

Table 1. Overview of typology.

Table 1. Overview of typology.

Conclusion: the need to professionalise and to sensitise

Considering these typical patterns with resources on one side and restrictions on the other side, the question arises of what is needed in order to benefit more fully from the potential that teachers have in connection with their own experience with a ‘migration background’. There are two different lines of vision that appear to be most significant. One is the line of vision towards those who have these different kinds of resources and potential, the other is towards those who cause the restrictions.

Teachers who have experienced themselves what it means to have so-called migration background obviously have a whole range of resources in dealing with migration-related diversity in schools. These resources can considerably contribute to the recognition of students, particularly in the migration context. However, they are often brought in rather intuitively and unreflectingly by transferring life experience into pedagogical orientation. In some parts, this transfer occurs in a way that appears to be highly productive in realising recognition. Nevertheless, in other parts, it is far less productive, while this problematic side is usually not perceived (for details, see under point 3). Hence, a more conscious and reflected way of transferring biographical experience into pedagogical orientation would be promising and would promote professionalisation. Helsper (2002: 95) has pointed out that professionalisation is crucial when teachers have to deal with contradictory demands as it is the case of dealing with questions of recognition (see point 2). He states that teachers need to find a reflected and productive ‘fit’ between their own self in the context of their biography and their pedagogical orientation. The presented study shows that this productive ‘fit’ is only partly realised all across the three types and that more professionalisation is needed. This need to professionalise, however, applies not only to those with migration experience but to all teachers, as numerous studies have shown (see, for example, Leutwyler and Mantel, 2015). Additionally, it might be worth mentioning that this study has shown particular resources in connection to the experience of being addressed as having a migration background, while this does not mean that teachers who do not have this kind of experience would not also be able to have some kind of resources in this regard. This, however, has not been the subject of this study.

The second line of vision is directed towards those who cause the mentioned restrictions. These restrictions differ from type to type, but they have a recurring common theme. In all three cases, there is a concern about not being fully recognised in one’s belonging or in not being fully successful in one’s career: Lucas Benito fears that if his students with ‘migration background’ were not self-effacing and modest, they would be hindered in their sense of belonging and in their success, while the same applies to himself as a teacher. Tom Branković is afraid that if he recognised the migration-related difference among his students, he would expose himself as ‘someone with migration background’ and would become a target for negative ascription and denigration. Sabrina Monti Giordano is apprehensive about her students being able to be successful in their education and career if they do not distance themselves from migration-related difference and family origin. All these concerns turn out to be restrictions to the existing potential of these teachers. Accordingly, it seems most urgent to ask what is needed in order to diminish these restrictions. As they are all connected to the prevailing attitudes in the social context, there is an apparent need to sensitise the society in general. More specifically, it would be most useful to foster school cultures that allow all teachers to feel secure in their belonging and recognition and to live their potential, those with and also those without migration experience.

Declaration of conflicting interests
The author declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship and/or publication of this article.

The author received no financial support for the research, authorship and/or publication of this article.

Carola Mantel


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Carola Mantel, PhD, is head of the Institute for International Cooperation in Education at the University of Teacher Education Zug, Switzerland. Her research interests include social justice in and through education, recognition, social boundary making, migration-related diversity, professional development of teachers, learning through study abroad and South-North cooperation.