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The influence of religious identity in teaching: narratives of six Life Science teachers in the Further Education and Training phase.

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Life Sciences has potential to open opportunities for learners to create a better future for themselves. Such access to opportunities, however, lies in the hands of teachers, especially those teaching this subject. Thus, teachers must ensure that learners’ rights are upheld in this regard. However, teaching is often influenced by a complex matrix of social, cultural, economic and religious factors. This study sought to understand the experiences of selected Life Sciences’ teachers of teaching contentious content. Further, the manner in which teachers negotiated tensions in this regard and the implications thereof for their teaching was explored. This study adopted a qualitative, narrative approach as a template for understanding the experiences of six Life Sciences’ teachers teaching content that caused tension between their religious and professional identities. Located within the interpretivist paradigm, the study used in-depth semi-structured interviews and unstructured lesson observations to generate data. Semi-structured interviews sought to delve into the teachers’ experiences of teaching contentious content, while unstructured lesson observations sought to illuminate these understandings by studying teachers in action. Day and Gu’s (2007) conceptual framework of identity as comprising personal, situated and professional dimensions, was used as a lens for understanding the complex intermeshing of aspects of teachers’ identities. Findings revealed a deeply ingrained nature of identity construction, with socialisation into religion deeply implicated as the strongest influence extending into teachers’ later lives. In this study, Life Sciences teachers projected their religious beliefs into their classrooms, resulting in unhealthy tensions with their professional obligations. Findings further revealed that, when faced with challenges from this tension, teachers deployed their religious framings as an exonerating device. This reveals a fragile professional identity, incapable of providing the capital required for teachers to fulfil their professional obligations. Whilst teachers acknowledged the importance of using their professional learning as an absolving device when faced with difficult pedagogical situations, they always elevated their religious framings as the highest priority, relegating educational rights of learners to the lowest rung. Findings of this study suggests that critical professional development is required to trouble earlier framings and empower teachers to teach contentious curriculum content.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg.