Academic journal article Perspectives in Education

Revisiting Rurality and Schooling: A Teacher's Story

Academic journal article Perspectives in Education

Revisiting Rurality and Schooling: A Teacher's Story

Article excerpt

Introducing the enquiry

My dreams of going to college and becoming a teacher had to fade away and the embarrassment of sitting at home for a year began to seep in. I must admit that the combination of not being at school and not even being allowed to play outside or push a wheelbarrow in the sun depressed me. Then one day I could not take it any longer. I tied a rope around a piece of wood, placed my head through the rope and began to swing. Just then my mother walked in... (Interview with Hilton, May 2008, Marianhill Monastery)

This excerpt offers us a glimpse of the abyss that Hilton found himself in. It sums up his pain and hopelessness as a young man growing up in a rural community. It also reminds us of his dream of wanting to study to become a teacher and live a life with some sense of normality and purpose. As a boy growing up in a rural environment, and having to live with the condition called Albinism1, life was never easy: Hilton found life trying. Moreover, realising his dream of becoming a qualified teacher from this marginalised space was a process requiring marked redefinition. He had to rethink his identity as an Albino and make the transition from "silent outsider to an authoritative insider" (Richie & Wilson, 2003: 76).

Hilton's story2 is one of eight teachers who participated in the larger research project funded by the National Research Foundation (NRF), and conducted in schools in the Vulindlela District in KwaZulu- Natal. All ethical clearance issues were followed through with great care to maintain the confidentiality and anonymity of the teacher participants and the schools in which they worked. Consent and permission to report the findings was obtained within the ambit of the larger Every Voice Counts Project (EVC).

The reconstructed story of Hilton (who resided in the district), is represented here in the first person. The EVC project identified five possible entry points using participatory methodologies as a cross-cutting theme for testing out the ways in which each group (community members, teachers, and learners) could regard another as a resource in the community when working with young people. Reflexive methodologies in studying teachers' lives, was chosen as one entry point by the authors, Daisy Pillay and Sheereen Saloojee.3 Within this research node, the researcher-authors used visual participatory and reflexive methodologies, showing how this could contribute to teachers acquiring a greater awareness of their own lived experiences, their strengths and of themselves as assets.

Context of the study

Critchley (2001) states that teachers define themselves according to the contexts in which they work: they see themselves as people who are willing to negotiate skills; front institutional barriers in socially appropriate ways; turn constraints into opportunity for change; reflect on the teaching process and environment, and engage in lifelong learning to the best of the individual's capacity. According to Critchley, teachers define themselves in relation to the context in which they teach. How the teacher negotiates the personal-professional self within the context of rurality and schooling is what we wish to explore, describe and explain through the lived experiences of an exemplary teacher, Hilton.

We start from the premise that a rural school is contextually different from the urban school in its geographical features, its practices, ethos, and economic status. While we argue that these issues and challenges are not unique to rural schooling and teachers who teach in rural schools, we hope to disrupt and challenge the stereotypical understandings adopted about it, by listening to real stories of real teachers working in rural schools. The first section examines some of the critical research that currently frames rural education and development in South Africa. The second section maps out the theoretical stance that the authors adopted to frame the argument. …

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