Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Why We Teach: Autobiographies of Traditionally and Alternatively Certified Pre-Service Social Studies Teachers

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Why We Teach: Autobiographies of Traditionally and Alternatively Certified Pre-Service Social Studies Teachers

Article excerpt

This study describes the analysis of the social studies autobiographies of

46 students compiled over a 15 month period. Two major questions were

addressed: (1) what motivational patterns are revealed in these

autobiographies and (2) what differences and similarities exist in the

autobiographies of students seeking alternative and traditional

certification. Both groups noted the influence of family and other

significant adults, and the influence of social studies teachers, both K-12

and postsecondary, in their decisions to pursue social studies teaching

careers. There were more similarities than differences between the two

groups. The autobiographies echoed influences that are found in the

literature, and reveal that active learning opportunities and inspiring

teachers are important in motivating students to pursue careers in social

studies education. Key Words: Social-Studies Education, Motivations for

Teaching, and Autobiography

Introduction

"Evidence suggests that in the thinking and practices of pre-service teachers, early personal histories are very powerful" (Knowles & Holt-Reynolds, 1991, p. 88). "Oh, me too," I say as I read. "That had such an influence on my decision to major in history!" Other times, I wonder at the tremendous impact of an influence that a student has shared, especially that of a good or poor teacher. I feel an additional connection to my students as they share their stories with me, revealing the various paths that have brought them into my secondary social studies methods class.

Past experiences and reflection on those experiences have a significant impact on the formation of teacher pedagogy and beliefs (Beattie, 2000; Bullough, 1994; Carter, 1995; Coia & Taylor, 2001; Coughlin, 2003; Doyle & Carter, 2003; Holt-Reynolds, 1991; Knowles & Holt-Reynolds, 1991; Rossiter, 2002; Salyer, 2002; Trapdeo-Dworshy & Cole, 1996). "Teachers' beliefs develop throughout their lifetimes" (Knowles in Smith, 2001, p. 1). Preservice teachers bring a variety of experiences into their college classrooms. Just their participation in a teacher education programs may be indicative of these experiences, as some research has suggested that a person's past experiences, through family, other people or events, can influence whether or not a person becomes as teacher. As well, past experiences influence what a person believes about teaching and how he/she teaches or will teach (Coia & Taylor; Knowles & Holt-Reynolds; Smith). "In order to understand teaching, it is of considerable interest to know the actors-who they are and how they conceive their task" (Lindblad & Prieto as cited in Andrews & Hatch, 2002, p. 188).

As an educator of preservice teachers, it seemed worthwhile to ask students to consciously reflect on some of the experiences that shaped their decisions to become social studies teachers. In order to aid them in this process, I decided to ask them to write social studies autobiographies in which they identified influences in their lives that aided them in making this decision. "Life history and narrative approaches" have been used as ways for educators "to explore their lives and their teaching" (Coughlin, 2003, p. 6). Holt-Reynolds (1991) proposed that a narrative approach suggests "that the knowledge base for teaching resides in the stories of experience as a teacher" (p. 5). I asked the students to think of the autobiography as a story because "People are 'story telling animals'" (MacIntyre as cited in Coia & Taylor, 2001, p. 3). Bruner (as cited in Beattie, 2000) proposed that we "make sense of our lives by telling stories about our lives." (p. 5). The main goals of this assignment were to examine the influences or experiences, the students identified as formative, and to engage the students in the self-reflection that is so essential in effective teaching. …

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