Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Shut Up and Listen! How Experiences as a Learner and a Culture Shock Shifted My Focus of Teacher Knowledge in a Science Classroom

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Shut Up and Listen! How Experiences as a Learner and a Culture Shock Shifted My Focus of Teacher Knowledge in a Science Classroom

Article excerpt

In this autoethnography I will write about how my views of education, specifically the knowledge that teachers value, were warped by some detrimental school experiences and how those incidents affected my personal life. Most of my teachers had a positivist orientation where they believed in universal truths and behaviorist pedagogy based on stimuli and rewards. Later an experience with one of my less fortunate students helped me realize that the path I was on was not helping my students reach their full potential and was not achieving happiness in my personal life. The names of the people in the story have been changed to protect their anonymity. To give my story an authentic voice, and to relate it to everyday experiences teachers and learners have, I will present this essay as an autoethnography. I will briefly explain the basis of an autoethnography below for readers who are not familiar with this genre.


Autoethnography is an approach to research that seeks to describe and analyze personal experience in order to understand cultural experience. Jones (2008) describes autoethnography as "A state of flux and movement - between story and context, writer and reader, crisis and denouement" (p. 207). A critical distinctions between an autoethnography and a biography is that an autoethnography has theoretical foundations that the author's personal story is built on where a biography is the author simply telling their story. The genre emphasizes cultural analysis and interpretation of the researcher's behaviors, thoughts, and experiences in relation to others in society. Autoethnography is an ethnographic inquiry that utilizes the autobiographic materials of the researcher as the primary data.

Elementary Experiences

We will start all the way back in kindergarten at J Elementary. I was a shy kid and was very nervous about going to school five days a week. In 1983 there were not many pre-school options in my small rural town so kindergarten was my first real school experience. As noted earlier, I did not have a good school experience, but kindergarten was not the problem. Mrs. S. was my teacher, a kind-hearted woman who greeted us each day with a hug and a smile. She had the stereotype qualities that come to mind when you think of a "good" kindergarten teacher; sweet, hardworking, creative, and made you feel special. I can still fondly remember playing games of "duck-duck-goose," singing songs to learn counting, drawing pictures of pilgrims on Thanksgiving and countless other ways that Mrs. S made learning fun and personal. If this was what school was going to be like, I was in! Mrs. S seemed to care about my ideas and she helped formulate ideas as I made discoveries in the classroom. Unfortunately, Mrs. S's passion for creativity and personalized learning did not spread down the hall into first grade as I entered my second year of school.

When I entered 1st grade I expected a similar experience as I did in Kindergarten. How could any teacher not follow the successful approach Mrs. S did? Unfortunately, my 2nd year of formal schooling introduced me to Mrs. W. Think Miss Viola Swamp from Harry Allard's children's book Miss Nelson is Missing, but with a twist on the classic tale; we had the strict teacher every day and would breathe a sigh of relief if a substitute walked in the door. The thing that bothered me the most about Mrs. W was not her strict, military-style, behavior management strategies (I was a shy kid who did not say much so I never got in trouble) it was her lack of pedagogical diversity. Mrs. W was an uncompromising behaviorist who delivered her lessons solely by Direct Instruction (DI). Behaviorism associates learning with changes in either the form or frequency of observable performance (Watson, 1930). The key elements of behaviorism are the stimulus, the response, and the association between the two. No attempt was ever made by Mrs. W to determine the structure of the student's knowledge nor to assess which mental processes was necessary for them to use (Winn, 1990). …

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