Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Nonlinear Negotiations: Constructing Practice as a First-Year Teacher

Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Nonlinear Negotiations: Constructing Practice as a First-Year Teacher

Article excerpt


We are just like, really dumbfounded by the fact that--you think you
have made a good breakthrough, and not that it's for naught, because
then you might have changed a couple students' minds, but in the grand
scheme of it, you feel like, it's a life size board game of like,
Chutes and Ladders or something. Where like, you are never going to
make it to a hundred, because there's a damn slide right there! (Mauro,
exit interview)

In the preceding quotation, Mauro, a high school science teacher, discusses the complexity of teaching with which he and his fellow new teachers were grappling, comparing his journey through his first semester of teaching to a childhood game in which landing on certain spaces interrupts a unidirectional trajectory with setbacks and jumps forward. Although dominant modes of thinking tend to position teaching and learning to teach as technical, process-product acts, as Mauro indicates--and recent educational scholars have also argued--these processes should be considered complex, relational phenomena (Cochran-Smith, Ell, Ludlow, Grudnoff, & Aitken, 2014; Opfer & Pedder, 2011) jointly arising from multiple actors and contextual conditions (Strom, 2015).

In this article, we adopt a situated analysis approach (Clarke, 2003), framed by notions of rhizomatics (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987), to investigate the nomadic pathways of the teaching practices of two first-year science teachers who participated in an urban teacher residency. Our investigation was guided by the question, "How do two science teachers construct their instructional practices in their first year of teaching?" Through two case studies, we show that the teaching practices that emerged arose from negotiations between the teacher, students, and other contextual factors. Drawing from this evidence, we argue that teaching practices are hybrid; that is, they are mixtures that are not a direct result of teacher learning but rather co-constituted or coproduced by multiple elements (only one of which is the teacher herself or himself). Such insights add to the extant body of research on the relationship between teacher learning and practice and can assist in developing teacher preparation models that can support the nonlinear and collective nature of teaching.


To articulate an alternate conception of teaching practice that departs from the normalized view of the teacher as an autonomous actor who controls her or his actions and, by extension, her or his students' learning, we draw from rhizomatics (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987) to recast the act of teaching as constituted by the interactions of a particular mixture of teacher--student--context. In this view, teaching activity jointly arises from the "coming into composition" (Martin & Strom, 2015) of multiple human actors (e.g., teachers, students, colleagues, administrators) and nonhuman elements (e.g., content, physical space, school culture, bell schedules). As such, the practices of beginning teachers are fundamentally hybrid productions rather than linear transferences.

Rhizomatics (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987) is a materialist philosophy that provides a way to theorize the day-to-day micropolitical activity of teaching, offering conceptual tools with which to analyze how actors and ideas in a particular classroom/school setting work together to produce teacher learning and practice. Rhizomatics provides a cluster of concepts that may be employed both theoretically and methodologically to disrupt Westernized, linear thinking patterns (Strom, 2015). Deleuze and Guattari (1987) argued that dominant thought is arborescent thinking. That is, Westernized thought simulates a tree, with one trunk (or universal idea) that reproduces itself into branches in a unidirectional, hierarchical trajectory upward. Nonlinear thought, however, approximates the rhizome, which, scientifically defined, is a bulb that grows unpredictably in all directions, both above- and belowground. …

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