(Principal AKHSS, Gahkuch, Gilgit-Baltistan)
Biography, a form of life history, has become popular method in educational enquiry, due to its importance for sense of teaching and learning at all levels of education.
It affirms the reality that our lives are intrinsically narrative in quality. We experience the world and re-present our experience in the form of story (Dhunpath, 2000). Teachers’ biographies tell us about the way they studied, entered into the teaching profession, their learning through formal and informal trainings, and experiences. Teachers’ biographies are about thinking from their perspective of an insider looking around and attempt to represent the experiential truth of the life lived and to learning process (Mann, 1992, Muchmore, 2000 & Oselen, 2000).
This paper presents my autobiography; in which I discuss about my birth, childhood and student life, how I became a teacher, my professional development, and re-entry to my school after completion of M.Ed. Finally, I conclude the paper.
A child cried with a soft voice around thirty eight years ago in a scenic village of Morder, District Chitral, Pakistan. A firing of guns was opened on the occasion of his birth. It is a tradition of Chitrali people to express their feelings of happiness and making the newly-born kid self-confident and strong in the years to come in his life with firing in the air on the occasion of the newborn baby. All the family members and relatives of a newborn baby became happy and exchanged their congratulatory messages to each other. The following night, all the villagers got together and celebrated the birth of the kid with cooking local delicious dishes and singing folk songs. Later, this newborn was known as Zain-Ul-Muluk (this name was proposed by my uncle who is a literary person and the meaning of my name is Handsome Prince or Beauty of a Kingdom) by all his relatives and rest of the villagers.
CHILDHOOD, STUDENT LIFE AND INSPIRATION FROM TEACHERS:
When I reflect back to my childhood, I was a naughty but intelligent boy. I was mostly inspired by the teachers who taught me since my childhood and I still respect them a lot. Wright and Tuska (cited in Nemser, 1983) talk about the influence of important adults on the decision to teach and on subsequent teaching. However, I never wanted to become a teacher at that time, despite being inspired by few of my teachers and having tons of respect in my heart for them. Perhaps, teachers’ status in our society which is according to Memon (2007), ‘under-valued’, ‘under-supported’ and ‘under-paid’, and some of their brutal behaviour were in front of me. That is why I was not interested in opting ‘teaching’ as a career. In my childhood, I had three aims of my life; becoming a doctor or a pilot or an army officer. However, none of them were met in the later stages of my life due to poor career planning and lack of full preparation. I was born in a well-educated family working in diverse professions along with few of my uncles who were associated with teaching profession at university, college and school levels. My uncles have been associated with teaching profession for more than four decades in government institutions and one of my uncles has also established his own schools, and still serving there foe the last two decades.
I had got opportunities to get admissions in four different schools till completion of my matriculation, hence got opportunities to learn from various teachers of their times with diverse teaching methodologies. Grossman (1990) emphasis on the knowledge of instructional strategies and representation for teaching particular topics and I used to enjoy those teaching techniques. However, those methodologies used to be predominantly teacher-centered.
I remember the days when after school time I used to imitate my teachers. I would teach the inanimate objects considering them as my students and I would give them instructions the way my teachers would do. Feimen-Nemeser (1983) asserts, “Children not only learn what they are told by parents and teachers, they also learn to be teachers” (p. 152).
I have great memories of my student life and remember my early age-friends and teachers with immense respect. I had spent a great time with my friends and teachers. However, some of the teachers were very fond of corporal punishment. I have some bitter experiences of corporal punishments from those teachers without any logic and justification which left a long lasting negative impact and a kind of gap in my personality. Despite having those bitter experiences from some of the harsh teachers, I still respect them. On the other hand, I was sharp in studies and very active in co-curricular activities. Therefore, some of my teachers would appreciate and encourage me for playing active roles in different activities of the school. With the passage of time, I developed a habit of general book-reading which broadened my understanding about different subjects and other world affairs.
BECOMING A TEACHER:
After completion of my studies (M.A Political Science followed by M.A Urdu), I joined a private company in the field of marketing and remained there for about eight years. However, despite having a handsome salary package, I never enjoyed that profession due to a very tough and rough nature of the job. Therefore, I wanted to switch over to any other profession related to my academic qualifications. It is also a fact that I had never clear objectives for that change of profession.
My elder brother and my cousin were teaching at Aga Khan Higher Secondary School (AKHSS), Gilgit, (established in 1998 to ensure quality education for the gifted students who get admissions purely on the basis of merit), a unit of Aga Khan Education Service, Pakistan (AKES,P). One fine spring season, I visited them on the occasion of Eid-ul-Fitr (a religious festival of Muslims, celebrated at the end of the holy month of Ramadan each year) and hence visited their school. Purposefully built school along with its available resources fascinated me a lot. I met the then faculty staff and students, and was surprised to know about the friendly environment in the school and respect for each other among stakeholders of the school. That particular visit of the school was the turning point of my life where I decided to become a part of that prestigious institution. I wanted to contribute my role at my own capacity to develop the said school in the years coming ahead and to minimize the gap between a teacher and students in our society which I had been feeling since my childhood.
The following year (2004), I applied for teaching at AKHSS, Gilgit and after a placement test and interview process, fortunately I was appointed as a Lecturer in Urdu. Hence, I started my career as a teacher. After spending some time in the said school, I was transferred to AKHSS, Gahkuch (a co-education school established in 2003, located in the district headquarters of Ghizer, and 75 kilometers away from Gilgit).
Since, I had studied in a very conventional system of education where a teacher is considered to be an expert and the learners, on the other hand, are considered as if they are empty vessels. Secondly, I had never taught even a single word to any person in a formal educational set up. Therefore, I applied mostly teacher-centered approaches (the way I was taught throughout my student life) where I would read aloud all the texts and would explain the topics to the students.On the other hand, students of the said schools were trained to ask creative and critical questions, share their own understandings, generate discussions and challenge the teachers with their ideas. As a result, I faced many challenges, but I took all the challenges in a positive way as learning opportunities, though; it was a bit frustrating for me. Thus, I seek help from my supervisor, veteran teachers and sometimes, asked students to give me critical feedback for what I had been doing with the teaching and learning process in the classes. All of the aforementioned persons were very instrumental in guiding me towards improving my teaching techniques. Especially, my immediate supervisor played a key role in developing my teaching skills. The presence of professional support has positive implications on teachers’ classroom practices (Khan, 2006). My principal would come to my classes, would give me constructive feedback and would ask me to read a lot of research articles about pedagogical content knowledge. Hence, my in-house professional development started and I learnt about different teaching strategies.
IN-HOUSE PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT:
Apart from my supervisor’s guidance, two volunteer teacher-trainers from England, Dr. Terry Ward and Dr. Sue (associated with Volunteer Services Organization and engaged by AKES,P to develop its teachers) conducted a five-day workshop in our school in 2005 where other teachers of AKHSSs in the region and lecturers of government colleges were invited, followed by classroom observations for around one year with constructive feedback after each classroom observation. Here, for the first time, I came to know about language teaching and language skills (while teaching any language, giving equal importance to reading, listening, writing and speaking skills). The learned scholars also covered the themes of Art of Teaching, Learning Theories, Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences, Differentiation, Bloom’s Taxonomy, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Self Actualization and Assessment for Learning etc.
Joyce, Calhoun and Hopkins (1999) claim that very little implementation will take place even in highly energetic school environments staffed with highly motivated people, unless training and follow-up in content and processes are provided. One short course/workshop is not enough to bring about drastic change in the school rather it is necessary for a teacher-trainer to revisit the content of training/workshop to see the ground realities and to make further strategies to help the teachers. The follow-ups of the workshops will help the teacher-trainer to improve his/her own success as well. The above mentioned teacher-trainers were very dedicated people regarding professional development of the course participants. Therefore, they arranged a refresher training programme for us along with the on-going classroom observations. This whole exercise proved a useful programme for my professional development and gave something lasting to my mother institution.
Similarly, in the year 2006, I was lucky enough to attend a workshop in Gilgit on Action Research conducted by AKES,P for its various teachers. This workshop broadened horizons of my mind towards different educational theories in general and Action Research in particular. Consequently, I conducted an Action Research in my school with a title, “Using Innovative Strategies and Methods to Enhance Student Creativity” which was published in 2007 in ‘The Praxis Series, Action Research’, Special Series by Aga Khan Education Service, Pakistan. Since, Action Research in Educational set-up is all about bringing improvement in one’s own teaching practices, thus; till the end of this action research, I had become an innovative teacher and had learnt many strategies about teaching. Moreover, my research skills were improved and when I shared my research findings with my colleagues at school level, I was role model for the new teachers.
EXPOSURE OF AKU-IED:
Year 2007 not only came with the completion of my action research, rather it seemed a lucky year for me as I qualified the placement test and interview process for a two-year Master in Education (M.Ed) programme from the Aga Khan University, Institute for Educational Development (AKU-IED), Karachi, Pakistan. I was involved in research and academic studies at AKU-IED relating to the roles of the teacher and school principal in various activities of SchoolImprovement;
Curriculum, Teaching, Learning and Assessment (CTLA); Pedagogical Leadership; Gender in Education; Monitoring and Evaluation; Effective Educational Leadership; School as a Learning Community; and Strategic Planning and Development.
This two-year long programme was a source of acquiring a general theoretical background for understanding past and future field experiences along with development of different skills in the field of research, Information and Communication Technology, and personality. Through this programme, I explored fundamental theories and enduring questions in the field of education. I was encouraged to reflect on my previous experience and bridge new understandings into future practice. Members of the cohort had come from a variety of backgrounds and levels of experiences. Both mid-career professionals and those at the early stage of their careershad come with a commitment to learning from their peers as well as from professors though classroom activities, lectures, seminars, workshops, and group and individual research projects. Hence, it was a great opportunity to learn from a variety of people with different backgrounds to become a professionally developed teacher.
After completion of M.Ed, I came back to my mother school and started teaching again from where I had left two years back. Although, I was away bothfrom teaching and my subject area for two years, yet I was professionally developed teacher with a variety of ideas and teaching methodologies. The M.Ed handbook of AKU-IED identifies the ultimate aim of M.Ed programme as preparation of an exemplary teacher, teacher educator and teacher researcher as the main roles of a professionally developed teacher. An exemplary teacher should have a sound command over the subject matter (Kern, 2004). Likewise, Hoban (2002) asserts that an exemplary teacher does not blindly adhere to one method, but s/he prefers the method that would best answer the possible difficulties incurred by a pupil. Since, I was equipped to create and support improvement initiatives in classroom teaching, student learning and assessment, therefore; I tried to bring about positive changes in the said areas. As a result, two students in my subject area got distinctions in the Aga Khan University, Examination Board’s Annual Examinations 2010.
In the year 2010, I took over the charge of Principal of AKHSS, Gahkuch. Although, my responsibilities are more inclined towards administration and management, yet I spare some time for the teaching purpose and enjoy it. Moreover, I really enjoy working with new teachers as their Mentor. Principal as a mentor,guides new or less experienced teachers through their classroom experience. Pitton (2006) says that teaching requires newly trained individuals to be given the responsibility of mentoring the novice teachers. He further identifies, “the role of mentor is that of a guide, supporter, friend, advocate, and role model” (p.10).Similarly, I share my experiences, expertise and knowledge with the teachers in the school. I guide, encourage and facilitate them about classroom teaching, students’ learning and assessment.
I not only reflect on my own teaching practices, but also encourage other teachers to reflect on and improve their own teaching practices. Until we reflect on our teaching practices and we are open to listen to others’ constructive feedback, we might not be able to develop ourselves professionally. Reflection on daily activities and teaching practices of a teacher is vital for improvement. Day (1995) defines, “reflective practice as a continuing conscious and systematic review of the purpose, plan, action and evaluation of teaching in order to reinforce effectiveness, and where appropriate prompt change” (p.112). It means that without reflecting on practice, it is very difficult to improve the teaching and learning processes of a teacher.
In our society, becoming a teacher is mostly by chance and teaching profession is considered to be a low profile job. People have less respect for teachers.However, people like me have a great respect for this profession. I am an optimistic teacher and I always look for possible ways to address the challenges in my way. I reflect on different incidents and make plans for improvement. Though, I had not taken any formal training for teaching before entering to this profession, yet I learned from my experiences. However, when I got opportunity to get enrolled in the M.Ed programme, I took much interest in the academic and professionalactivities at AKU-IED and as a result, learnt a lot from the said programme. I want to introduce new teaching methodologies into my teaching and want to transfer them to my colleagues. I am very friendly and cooperative with my colleagues and students. Therefore, I am ready to help any person from the community of academia.
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