Passing the Torch: Developing Students' Professional Identity through Connected Narratives

Article excerpt

Abstract

This article examines the effectiveness of personal narratives on novice and aspiring teachers' professional identity development. It does so by looking specifically at the preprofessional program at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and discusses how one professor used life-stories in conjunction with prepracticum experiences to enhance her students' perceptions about the teaching profession. This study finds that using reflective narratives as texts caused participating education majors to think more deeply and realistically about their newly chosen profession and to adjust their initial beliefs and assumptions about the role of teachers in classrooms.

Introduction

There are widespread misgivings regarding the efficacy of teacher education programs within our institutions of higher education. Course work is often perceived to be impractical, redundant, and removed from the realities of the life of a professional teacher. Complaints regarding the bureaucratic nature and time consuming structure of licensure programs are also prevalent within the profession. In addition, education is viewed, by society as a whole, to be an occupation that attracts the least able individuals (Clifford & Guthrie, 1988). Research literature supports the widespread existence of these attitudes, finding that veteran teachers consistently report feeling that their college preparation was inadequate or deficient, especially when these educators reflect on the applicability of university curricula to practice (Clifford & Guthrie, 1988; Grant & Murray, 1999; Lampert & Ball, 1999).

Despite attempts by colleges of education, nationwide, to ground the development and learning of new and aspiring teachers within the practice itself, attitudes toward university-based education programs remain negative. This pessimistic attitude dominates the profession, despite some evidence suggesting that some campus-based courses are effective, sometimes more so than immersion or alternative licensure programs (Fullan, 1993; Kennedy, 1999; Lampert & Ball, 1999). However, current findings also suggest that university-based programs must respond to their critics by becoming more inclusive of faculty innovation, responsive to K-12 reform, supportive of multiple methodologies, and creative in their use of action research. In addition, they must assist students in making useful real-life connections between theory and practice on an ongoing basis by supporting the idea that teachers are involved in life-long learning processes (Ayers, 1990; Ethell & McMeniman, 2000; Lampert & Ball, 1999). In light of these conclusions, Ball & Cohen (1999) recommend altering teacher education programs by reworking content at both the pedagogical and practical level. They also suggest that higher education develop a new "pedagogy of professional development," one that supports educational reform and innovative practices. Toward this goal, the professorate must take a deeper look at how their instruction models best practice, engages students, supports professional goals, and provides guidance on how to create inclusive and tolerant classrooms. In addition, faculty must educate aspiring educators by constructing forums for experimentation and critique that investigate how teachers and students interact in classrooms on a daily basis.

The PreProfessional Core

With the second largest teacher education program in the state, the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater (UW-W) has begun to address some of these issues by offering an initial preprofessional curriculum that every student, aspiring to be an elementary school teacher, must complete. As a fundamental experience it is both foundational to, and a prerequisite for, admission to the professional licensure program offered within the College of Education.

The group of courses that make up this core, known euphemistically as "the block," includes an initial field experience (course title: Observation and Participation in Urban Schools) as well as courses in diversity and human development. …