Abstract: An Imbalanced Professional Identity: The Experience of Teaching Social Work in Mainland China (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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An Imbalanced Professional Identity: The Experience of Teaching Social Work in Mainland China

Wednesday, January 20, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Wen Xu, MSW, PhD student, University of Houston, Houston, TX
Monit Cheung, PhD, Professor, University of Houston, Houston, TX
Yu-Ju Huang, MSW, Doctoral student, University of Houston, Houston, TX
Background/Purpose: Since China's rapid economic growth in the late 2000s, its social work academic programs had been exponentially expanded from 27 in 1999 to 348 in 2019. The development of its social services system is still in its learner stage. Social work education is known for its commitment to its dual identity: an academic achiever in the higher education system and a professional field trainer for the social welfare system. To understand how this dual identity was developed, a closer look at social work educators' experience in the academy and field training systems will help promote these professional identities and engage social workers in a leading role in social welfare. However, Zeng et al. (2016) found an education-occupation mismatch when most social work graduates did not choose social work as a career. The research question was: What experiences social work educators had to deal with the mismatch between the rapid development in social work education and the delayed recognition of social work's professional identity?

Method: Data were collected through semi-structured online interviews with 11 social work educators through purposive sampling with maximum variation in demographics. The sample included both genders (55% female), having social work degrees (72.7%), currently working in teaching-oriented universities (63.6%), with management (45%) or supervisory (45%) experiences in social service agencies, and some with full-time practice experience (36.4%). The interviews were recorded, transcribed, and analyzed using Colaizzi's (1978) phenomenological method.

Results: In the context of education-occupation mismatch, social work educators are facing tensions between the two systems. They generally recognize the value of social work but worried about its low professional status. However, since being a professor in higher education institutions in China has a much higher social status than working in direct social work services, teachers generally preferred the identity of being university professors than social workers. Social work educators had to weigh the pros and cons of research and practice. About 74% of them emphasized helping students build personal capacity as a teaching goal but did not guide them into becoming social workers. Only 27% mentioned that the goal of social work education should include promoting commitment to serve the profession. Findings revealed a critical challenge for these educators when they saw themselves still questioning their social work attributes to serve the educator and social agent roles.

Conclusion/Implications: This study provided a path to examine the imbalanced professional identities among social work educators (Keddell & Stanley, 2016; Wheeler, 2016). The challenge was about motivating educators to recognize their influential roles when interacting with students and stakeholders in the two systems they serve. While knowledge transfer is their strength, they must walk on this path to review their professional commitment so that they can pass this value to students and the field. With strong policy support to increase the importance of values-based education, social work will become a stronger profession to encourage educators to be role models for their social work students to balance the match between their education and choice of career.