Understanding a Pakistani Science Teacher's Practice through a Life History Study

By Halai, Nelofer | The Qualitative Report, July 2011 | Go to article overview

Understanding a Pakistani Science Teacher's Practice through a Life History Study


Halai, Nelofer, The Qualitative Report


Science teachers bring together different kinds of knowledge such as science content knowledge, knowledge about science, knowledge of the curriculum, knowledge of the system of education, and most important, pedagogical content knowledge (Shulman, l986, 1987). Connelly and Clandinin (1988) refer to this complex and interconnected array of knowledge as personal practical knowledge. This is not a body of pre-existing knowledge to be brought forth when required. Rather it is transient and situated knowledge which is "experiential, value laden and oriented to practice" (Clandinin, 1986, p. 19). Teachers are involved in making many decisions before, during, and after classroom teaching. The basis on which teachers choose to do one thing rather than another is based on their experiences and what sense they have made of them. Hence, it follows that teachers' life experiences have a deep and abiding effect on the kind of teachers they become. However, what is important is that it is not only professional experiences but all life experiences whether inside or outside the classroom that influence and shape this decision-making process. Hence, it is important to see teachers' lives holistically, particularly when offering professional development because when teacher-educators ask teachers to change their practice, in essence they are asking them to change their lives (Louden, 1991).

This is the rationale for this particular research study. In this paper you meet Munazza Sheikh, a science teacher who works in Karachi Model Secondary School (KMSS) which is a private, afternoon-shift, English-medium and co-educational school for children from middle-income families in Karachi, Pakistan. All teachers, students, administrators and names of institutions mentioned in this paper are pseudonyms to maintain confidentiality. Munazza has completed her Bachelors of Science and at the time of the study she was engaged in completing her Master's in Islamic History. She has had no teacher education as it is not a requirement for private schools in Pakistan. She has been teaching science for seven years, three of them at KMSS. She was teaching science to grades 7, 8, and 9 and also taught Islamiyat (the study of Islam) to grade 8.

The purpose of this single case life history study was to ascertain a female science teacher's conceptions of the nature of science explicit in her practice in a school in Pakistan, develop an understanding of her practice of teaching science, and determine how the teacher's life history has affected her practice. While teaching science, a teacher projects messages about the nature of science that can be captured by observations and interviews. Furthermore, the manner in which a teacher conceptualizes science for teaching, at least in part, depends on personal life experiences. Hence, I have used the life history method to understand Munazza's practice. I have selected this method because life history allows observation of individuals and how "they act within, respond to, and represent their times and places by presenting both individual life stories and analyses of how social patterns shape those lives" (Thiessen, Bascia, & Goodson, 1996, p. 1). Life histories allow and encourage the researcher to adopt a broader understanding of teaching by providing illustrations of the relationships between various aspects of teachers' lives and their teaching practice, both inside and beyond the classroom. Life history allows the identification of important structural factors and dynamics that are sometimes hidden or not obvious when encountering teachers' stories cut off from their context. Life histories also remind us not to take for granted the ways in which childhood experiences, choosing a teaching career, or in-school and classroom activities influence teachers' curricular choices.

In this paper I will primarily focus on Munazza's teaching practice and the impact of her life history on her science teaching. …

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