Portraits of rural schooling : what does it mean to be a teacher in a rural school?
This research presents an understanding of being a teacher and of teacher's work in schools which are defined as 'rural'. In asking the question, "What does it mean to be a teacher in a rural school?" I produced data of their daily practices and social realities that constitute the lived experiences of teachers within the context of rural education. Employing a critical, emancipatory framework, I documented the multiple identities and meanings that emerged, and drew attention to the teachers' need for change. The need to change what rural means, what rural schooling is, becomes the space to challenge and question oppressive practices and for opportunities of freedom. Using a narrative inquiry approach, I produced data of the lives of four teachers who work in two high schools in the Vulindlela District. The data sources used to produce the data included four life history interviews, which were conducted as the main methodological strategy, critical conversations and collages. Through narrative analysis, four reconstructed teachers' stories were produced. The storied narratives are reconstructions of lives told by two groupings of teachers: constructed by teachers that commute to the rural school from one rural area to another, and those that live in the same area as the school. Through the reconstructed teacher stories, the study makes visible how gender identities read against the history and traditional coding of rural settings. It also shows how these identities narrate these individual lives in particular ways, and how the teachers threaten these spaces to rework their meanings and practices for different ways of thinking, living and working as teachers in schools in rural settings. The study contributes towards an understanding of the relationship between 'school life' and 'whole life' . The study concludes that these teachers' personal and professional identities are negotiated on a daily basis, shaping and being shaped by particular social spaces in which they live and work, and make sense of the kind of the teachers they are and want to be. The teaching and learning choices and judgments they made in their classroom are intertwined with other variables other than just teaching. Being a teacher in a school within this particular schooling context, they are challenged with conditions, and have to constantly confront them. Alongside this, teachers enacted certain practices to disrupt, and challenge stereotypical understandings and meanings that we have come to adopt about rural schooling. This study shows that these four teachers in rural schools enacted certain practices 'within the school' and 'beyond the school'. They were able to cultivate commitment, connectedness and care. We see how the notion of "Engaged Pedagogy" (Hooks, 1994) plays itself out in rural schools by teachers who work there. They cultivate this type of pedagogy through constant reflection and by engaging in practices within the formal teaching time, during lunch breaks and beyond the formal teaching time. Through ongoing reflection in how they teach and what they teach they challenge traditional oppressive practices and establish better innovative ways of thinking and working as teachers. By making the change, rurality is transforming and, therefore, rural schooling too is being transformed. The desire expressed by the four teachers to support, care and to express love for learners as a way of improving the life for the learners in the school opened up opportunities for them to excel. By learners feeling good about themselves, they were able to perform better and in this way changed the experience of rural schooling. So to answer my research question, what does it mean to be a teacher in a rural school? It meant to work 'within the school' and 'beyond the school'.