Collectively coming to know: an ethnographic study of teacher learning in Toledo, Belize




Achtem, Janice

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In this ethnographic case study I examine the meanings and manifestations of teacher knowledge by inquiring into the perceptions of learning for a group of primary school teachers in Toledo, Belize, Central America. As an outsider, I construct an insider’s view of teachers’ knowledge by representing what these teachers know about teaching and how they have come to know what they know. The lived experiences of the teachers are illuminated as I discuss opportunities and challenges for educators in this region of the world. The insider-outsider relationship is examined as I reflect on my role as a volunteer with a non-profit organization, as well as a researcher and a Canadian secondary school teacher. The following questions structure the study: (1) How does the development of teachers’ knowledge occur in rural communities of the majority world country of Belize? (2) What kind of impact has the Teachers for a Better Belize (TFABB) “Literacy Coaches Program” had on the development of teachers’ knowledge in Toledo, Belize? Results of the study are represented in three distinct ways. The creative ethnography highlights the lived reality of local teachers as I interpreted the typical journey they take in learning to teach. The realist tale, including several detailed participant quotes, illustrates a more explicit map of teacher learning as it connects with current research and literature. The confessional tale represents my highly personal reflections with regard to the research as well as my own learning. Toledo teachers identify many factors affecting their formal learning including economic constraints, geographic isolation and limited resources. Local teachers do, however, recognize and engage in the less formal learning opportunities available to them. They collaborate with peers, seek out mentors, engage in teacher workshops, and reflect on their own practice. An oppressive cloud, however, looms over the educational landscape in Toledo, as teachers describe tacit yet lingering effects of colonialism present in their educational culture. In this study I conclude that to realize improved opportunities for both teachers and students in Toledo, there must be genuine understanding and respect between all educational sectors. By raising the profile of the underrepresented primary teacher in Toledo, this study aims to promote meaningful dialogue between all those involved to nurture the professional knowledge development of teachers.



teacher knowledge, majority world, Belize, ethnography