Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Listening to Anthony: The Case of a Disruptive Preservice Teacher

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Listening to Anthony: The Case of a Disruptive Preservice Teacher

Article excerpt

I am a teacher/student who gets to class early. I like to "feel" the room before the excitement of discussion, the chaos of writing, the rigor of questioning overtake the once lightheartedness of the silent, empty chairs. I also am a person who thrives on conversation. On learning through the casualness of easy talking and shared experiences. I love the light chatter of students and teachers finding their spaces, clearing the dust, and deinstitutionalizing the sometimes too stiff classrooms. This space is safe--this is where we share our nonjudged excitement about the incidentals of our lives, commiserate about our too busy schedules, or listen to the fears or triumphs of our diverse classroom field work before our more directed conversations begin. This is where our classroom community begins to form.

Members of the all White and mostly female (the ratio of men to women is 1 to 27) class cluster in small groups, discussing the required texts and how they relate to their own experiences as elementary school students and student teachers. The classroom seems to buzz, and there are occasional outbursts of laughter or exclamations of disbelief. Body language speaks to the passion that this community feels for teaching as students lean into their tables intently and hands punctuate thoughts. The rustling of paper slows a conversation here or there as students search for their previously written words to add to the dialogue.

Sitting in the midst of what I, as the classroom facilitator, hope is impassioned learning and growing around the issues of language arts exploration is Anthony. His laptop is open, and as he stares intently at the screen, he occasionally stabs at the keys before furiously deleting whatever it is that he has just written. When I ask him if he would like to add to his group's discussion, he gruffly answers, "Oh, I didn't read," and turns back to his computer. Students in his group roll their eyes, shake their heads, and awkwardly attempt to invite him into the dialogue with little success. Their history with this classmate, I know from anonymous notes in my mailbox, is full of confrontation. Several students have repeatedly reported that not only does he not complete his assignments, but he makes belittling comments and judgments toward their own work.

My own history with this student spans two semesters. We struggled together through fall semester's children's literature class, and after several unpleasant confrontations and classroom outbursts by Anthony and many conferences--to discuss both his academics and his approach to teaching and learning as it applied to our classroom, me, and other students--he seemed really excited about his learning at the end of the semester. Outside of class, Anthony and I had had several fascinating conversations surrounding the intersection of Judaism (he is Orthodox) and feminism (I am a student of feminist spirituality), multicultural education, and the struggles he faces as a person with learning disabilities who has an intense desire to teach other learning disabled students. I admit, I was slightly apprehensive about another semester of balancing my desire to live my pedagogy in my teaching and the unpredictability of Anthony's response to me as his teacher, but I was hopeful.

WHY A SELF-STUDY? HOW WELL DO MY THEORY AND PRACTICE MIX?

This self-study, in which I examine my own teaching of the same group of undergraduate preservice elementary school teachers over two semesters--in a children's literature and language arts methods course--focuses on how I tried to bring together the goals of my teaching and research, which are guided by Freire's (1970) call for praxis: "reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it" (p. 33). These two semesters were also my first two as a full-time graduate student, fresh from the elementary school classroom. I learned both from this study and from Anthony, the student at the center of the study, that teaching and pedagogical practice is always, as Ellsworth (1997) wrote, a paradox "that can never be settled and resolved once and for all" (p. …

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