Academic journal article Educational Research Quarterly

Depending on Experience

Academic journal article Educational Research Quarterly

Depending on Experience

Article excerpt

"It Depends" is frequently one of the first answers teachers give when questioned about their decisions based on their teaching experiences. An understanding and acceptance of the contingent nature of the work of teaching is basic to development in the process of becoming a teacher. As a teacher educator, I know that the development of my students as teachers depends on experience and yet this is one aspect of teacher education over which we frequently have little control. My purpose in this paper is to explore this contingency more completely and examine how attention to it holds the most promise for teacher education reform.

Clandinin and Connelly (1991) and Goodson (1992) among others have explored the use of narrative in conducting research on teaching. My stance in this examination is a narrative one. But instead of examining the possibility of researchers doing research on experience in becoming a teacher from a narrative framework, I attend instead to understandings of experience and narrative which could lead to reconceptualizing teacher education processes. Polkinghorne's (1988) conception of the three levels of narrative (living, telling, and interpreting the experience) is central to this analysis.


There are two ways in which teacher education ignores what might count as experience in the education of our students: past experience and borrowed experience.

Past experience. When students enter teacher education programs, we often treat them as if they come to us as blank slates. We usually do not utilize in systematic, functional ways the experiences they bring with them. Experiences in teaching peers or siblings, in performing in front of audiences as actors or musicians, in grading papers for another teacher, in teaching in religious settings, in managing rowdy teen-age boys:at a local video-arcade, in door to door selling or in myriad and contingent experiences that will inform their decisions and choices as a teacher are accepted as standard but are often ignored by teacher education programs. It is not enough merely to be "aware" that such experience exists because it has fundamentally marked our students.

Bullough, Knowles, & Crowe (1991) have documented the importance of personal history and the complexity of students' conceptions of teaching for their success in beginning teaching. As a result of this work, many teacher education programs, I assume, now use personal history assignments or tasks in some part of their program. But I wonder if we attend carefully enough to the dynamic quality of past experience when it is embraced as part of the learning to teach process. Ben-Peretz (1995) has argued that the wisdom of practice relies on past experience. Teachers' work, she suggests, is a chain of routine and unexpected events coupled together and that this is the raw data from which teachers form generic images which guide their practice.

In their practice, teachers create a living educational theory--their theories of practice are embodied in that practice (Whitehead, 1989). Ever present in the current practice of a teacher are the past experiences and the conclusions, assumptions, conceptions of teaching and learning which are built upon past experience and which are evident in current experience. We often deny this dynamic quality and primacy of prior experience-- not our own but that of the student who is becoming a teacher. HoltReynolds (199 AERA article and AERA presentation??) work documents clearly the impact of students' past experience on what they will learn from us. She argues that students in our classes can do the tasks we require, brilliantly and comprehensively, but until what we teach connects with the self-as-learner or the beginning self-as-teacher, our students do not incorporate what they are learning. No matter how competently they can perform a skill or exhibit a particular disposition which we require, when they leave us it will most likely drop from their repertoire unless there is a place in their understanding of experience (what it will be like as they become a teacher) to which it can connect. …

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