Academic journal article Vitae Scholasticae

Bad Teacher under Reflection

Academic journal article Vitae Scholasticae

Bad Teacher under Reflection

Article excerpt


My grandmother was a teacher in rural Georgia for over 40 years. My mother and father were both teachers. Two of my sisters are teachers. All things considered, teaching was not the most unlikely career path for me to follow. In fact, when people who aren't teachers have asked me what else I might do in life other than teaching (a question, I fear, teachers are asked more often than others), I can't begin to come up with an answer (create teaching materials?). I started teaching English as a tutor in college, and have continued to do so in one form or another for the past 30 years. Overall, my education as a teacher has been rigorous and never-ending. This personal pedagogical history should serve as a backdrop to the main story I tell here, about a recent spring I spent teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) to a few high school students, and discovered--through reflective journaling --that I am just beginning to be aware of my deep weaknesses and insecurities as a teacher.

My primary area of scholarly and teaching expertise is the education of English language learners. My current position entails teacher education in English as a Second Language, yet I rarely have an opportunity to actually teach English language learners myself. So, when I had a sabbatical coming up a few years back, I decided I wanted to spend significant time working with some English learners. Going into this experience, I planned to keep a reflective journal to document the experience and learn something about myself as a teacher.

Bailey et al. describe how keeping a journal helps a teacher make sense of immediate experience, "like arraying the jumbled pieces of a jigsaw on a table." (1) However, they go on to note, it's not the journals themselves that allow one to see the bigger picture--the greater story. That perspective comes from reading the journals over time. A later narrative inquiry into the story being told by the journals can allow a teacher to see, and critically examine, the picture made by those jigsaw puzzle pieces.

Narrative Inquiry

Jean Clandinin and Michael Connelly were some of the first within the field of teacher education to link narrative inquiry to teacher development. In their 2000 overview of narrative inquiry, they discuss one of their primary intellectual influences, John Dewey, from whom they've adopted an emphasis on experience and continuity. (2) One experience leads to another, leads to another, and another, and so one needs to understand the connections between experiences to understand any one experience. That is, new experiences need to be connected to old in order to make sense. Narrative Inquiry, then, can be seen as the process of making the connections that give meaning to experience. Carola Conle describes narrative inquiry as a practice involving the study of connections between experience, institutions, and situations" with the understanding that action and beliefs are grounded in personal cultural histories and should not be inquired into without accounting for these as well." (3)

As Clandinin and Connelly and Conle acknowledge, narrative both instills practice and experience with its meaning, and is also a mode of uncovering that meaning. Arthur Bochner pushes this point forward a bit more, saying, "the sense of coherence that we need does not inhere in events themselves. Coherence is an achievement, not a given. This is the work of self-narration: to make a life that seems to be falling apart come together again, by retelling and 'restorying' the events of one's life." (4) There is a two-part distinction, then, that needs to be developed between the idea that life itself is experienced narratively (narrated in the moment), and the idea that we narrativize life after it happens, through reviewing and retelling our histories. The near-the-moment narrating can be seen in reflective journaling, while later re-storying of these journals, as I will be doing here, can reveal other, larger, narratives. …

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