Biographies, experiences and language practices : teachers of early childhood education in Mauritius.
This study explores Early Childhood Education teachers’ experiences of learning English in multi-lingual Mauritius and the way these influence their pedagogical practices. English is the official language of instruction despite not being the first language of the majority of teachers and learners. Consequently, the children’s first language has become an inexorable feature of Mauritian classrooms. Studying the construction of language pedagogy through teachers’ accounts is a significant step towards understanding the existing dynamics among languages used in the classroom − more so in Early Childhood Education, a key stage that lays the foundation for further language development. My study examines my participants’ experiences of learning and teaching English in a range of contexts. The interpretative paradigm informs the choice of life history as research methodology. This methodology allows the researcher to co-construct the voice of the participants as agents and critics of their own experiences and practices. It provides the researcher with an insight into their experiences of language learning and teaching practices. Data was produced through biographic narrative interviews, classroom observations, informal conversations, and assemblage and commentary on selected artifacts. The data production process was directed towards producing deeper textured insights into the challenges and potential of the use of English. The data was analysed through a grounded and inductive approach. The production of the narratives constituted the first level of analysis. In the second level of analysis, themes identified in the five narratives were analysed through a cross-case comparison. The third level of analysis acted as a validatory move wherein antithetical cases (‘outliers’) were further scrutinised to test initial findings. The findings indicate that the process of teacher development spans across time and contexts that teachers occupy from the time of birth onward. Formal and informal as well as local and foreign contexts influence the teachers’ language experiences in various ways at different points in time. The findings further draw attention to the individualised nature of teachers’ becoming in the midst of blurred boundaries wherein a multiplicity of interacting factors mutually impact upon one another. Teacher agency also emerges as a salient feature of the process. A model of teacher professional development is then presented using the biological construct of evolution to show the intricate link between biographies, experiences and practices. The metaphor of the evolutionary drift depicts teacher development as a process that comprises change through transformation, adaptation and assimilation. The double-edged nature of this process is however indicated since teachers can also modify their environment. The “double helix model of teacher professional development” is then proposed to represent the nuanced complexities of negotiating language learning in Early Childhood Education classrooms. The upward movement of the spiralling double helix highlights teacher professional development as a continuing process whereby biography and pedagogical practices evolve in the light of teachers’ on-going experiences. Teachers enact the interpretation and re-interpretation of these experiences in their pedagogical practices. The thesis concludes by elaborating on the ways in which the study has pushed methodological, contextual and theoretical boundaries. It states the implications of the findings on teachers, teacher educators and policy makers while pointing to the limitations of the study and proposing possibilities for future research.