Narratives from the Classroom: An Introduction to Teaching


Edited by: Paul Chamness Miller

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    Foreword: What Future Teachers Need to Know


    Charles Dickens published Hard Times in London in 1854—I'll do the math for you, that's exactly 150 years ago. In the opening paragraphs, Dickens describes with fierce precision the first thing future teachers need to know. This is the fraught world of 19th-century English schooling, remarkably like the one new teachers will face in modern America:

    “Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, Sir!” …

    The speaker, and the schoolmaster … swept with their eyes the inclined plane of little vessels then and there arranged in order, ready to have imperial gallons of facts poured into them until they were full to the brim.

    Most people picking up this text are just now entering or are perhaps in the beginning stages of a teacher education or credentialing program, while others may be completing their student teaching. There is good news and bad news to keep in mind regardless of where you are in your program. The bad news first: You can't be a wise teacher before you've been an innocent and naïve one, smart before foolish, experienced before inexperienced. This is obvious, but so many new teachers berate themselves simply for being new, that it bears noting at the start. Learning to teach takes more time. You are a work in progress. Keep going.

    The good news? You can hold onto your humanistic ideals as a teacher, negotiate the troubled waters of teaching, continue to grow, and learn for your entire life in classrooms. Committing to the task of continuous experimentation, investigation, inquiry, and study is essential. One way to proceed is to engage in an intergenerational dialogue with other teachers, a space for problem posing and problem solving, historical and theoretical considerations, storytelling and critical reflection. This text is one site where you can begin that dialogue.

    There's so much more to learn. Too often future teachers have experienced little more than a few courses in educational philosophy and psychology, the history of education, then the methods of teaching, and finally a synthesizing moment when everything is theoretically brought together in student teaching. This approach structures the separation of thought from action, rips one from another, and walls the mind off from the body, weakening both. It's lazy at best, miseducative always. But worse, it ignores the humanizing mission of teaching.

    The humanizing mission focuses on the humanity of students, multidimensional creatures with bodies, minds, hearts, spirits, and also hopes, dreams, aspirations, and desires. These are some courses we might have wanted to take in college: Turning Toward the Student as Fellow Creature (Not Dirt Bag of Deficits); Building a Republic of Many Voices Where Each Can Be Heard, Each Seen; Creating Community with and for Students and Families; Finding Critical Allies in Parents and Community; Developing Courage and Confidence; Becoming a Student of Our Students; Practicing Creative Insubordination; Transgression 101; Lifting the Weight of the World; Resisting Orthodoxy; Teaching Toward Freedom, How To.

    There's a message here, of course, about what is to be valued and why, just as the message in the existing standard curriculum tells us what is to be valued and why. I want teachers to resist the mindless and the soulless in teaching in favor of attention to the ethical and intellectual dimensions of their efforts. I want teachers to be aware of the stakes, aware as well that there is no simple technique or linear path that will take them to where they need to go, and then allow them to live out settled teaching lives, untroubled and finished. There is no promised land in teaching, just that aching persistent tension between reality and possibility. This book might help.

    I want teachers to figure out what they're teaching for, and what they're teaching against. I know I want to teach against oppression and subjugation, exploitation, unfairness, and unkindness. I want to teach toward freedom, for enlightenment and awareness, wide-awakeness, protection of the weak, cooperation, generosity, compassion, and love. I want my teaching to mean something worthwhile in the lives of my students and in the larger worlds they will inhabit and create. I want it to mean something in mine. The teachers presented in these pages have lived meaningful teaching lives—listen and learn; think, reflect, and talk back to them.

    I want future teachers to commit to a path with a certain direction and rhythm: Love life, embrace your students, breathe in and breathe out, love your neighbors, open up, listen, love yourself, be generous, act and doubt, learn from your students, question everything, talk with everyone you meet, defend the outcast and the despised, challenge and nourish yourself and others, become a student of your students and allow them to become a teacher to their teacher, seek balance. I want future teachers to develop a wild and eclectic and dynamic list they can refer to when the night is dark and they feel themselves to be far from home. Here is Walt Whitman, in one of his many prefaces to Leaves of Grass, offering advice to his fellow poets:

    This is what you shall do:

    Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body …

    Wow! That's a list to laminate and carry along in your backpack, a list to tape to your wall. It's written to poets, but it stands as advice to free and future teachers, too, a nice start to our own lists. There are wonderful elements in the following pages to begin constructing your own list, your own rules to live by. The important thing is this: Don't let your teaching life make a mockery of your teaching values.


    Paul ChamnessMiller

    In the several years that I have been an instructor in teacher education, I have come to the realization that preservice teachers enter the program with rose-colored glasses and preconceived notions of what teaching really is; many students in teacher education programs across the country are not aware of the various issues that concern the profession of teaching. This concern is often coupled with insufficient exposure to real classrooms, schools, and teachers because of constraints of time, available teachers, and course loads. However, in order for the preservice teacher to fully understand what it means to choose teaching as a career, it is important to make connections with teachers to see what occurs within the walls of schools. One possible supplement to experiencing the classroom firsthand is to provide the preservice teacher with narrative accounts of teachers' experiences with students, parents, administrators, and colleagues, in order to obtain a clearer picture of what teaching involves. JoAnn Phillion, in the first chapter of this book, provides a description of what narrative is, why it is important, and how a preservice teacher might use the narratives of experienced teachers to affirm his or her decision to become a teacher and to gain a deeper understanding of the host of issues that make up this important career.

    This book is a collection of narratives and opinions from experienced teachers and teacher educators who want to share their lives as teachers with those who are considering joining them in the profession. While no book could ever replace the invaluable experience of being in a classroom and working closely with a seasoned teacher, this book does afford the reader a few moments with several carefully selected educators who understand the importance of sharing their teaching experiences. It is also important to note that the topics selected for this book are not exhaustive, nor do they represent all points of view of the issues addressed. The authors selected for this book have presented their personal experiences, making each chapter unique. In the traditional form of contact with teachers, one is often limited to the expertise of one teacher at a time. This book provides the opportunity for the preservice teacher to have a glimpse into the classrooms and minds of 15 individual teachers. Each of these teachers comes from a different walk of life and a different location. The authors are also of varying ethnic backgrounds, a combination that provides a rich variation of experiences and opinions. Knowing this, the reader should not take what is presented as the “gospel” on the topic; instead, it would be preferable to ponder what is discussed, perhaps look into the topic further, gather contrasting arguments on the topic, debate the issue with classmates and other teachers, and attempt to sort out where one stands on each issue. It is often beneficial to organize one's thoughts in a journal or narrative of one's own. Knowing where one stands will prepare the future teacher for situations that will arise in the classroom, future courses, and job interviews.

    Because the issues that involve teaching are so varied, I have organized the book into sections, with each section focusing on a particular theme. These sections will help the reader understand how particular topics are related to each other rather than giving the impression that each topic is an isolated issue. What is more, the reader will find that the topics are often intertwined. For example, the role of the teacher is defined in current curricular issues, instructional methodologies, dealing with students and parents, and so forth. It is, therefore, not surprising to find the same issues resurface in several of the chapters included in this book.

    Part I presents two chapters that deal with understanding the purpose of schools and teachers. In order to fully understand what the purpose of teachers is, it is important to understand their roles as Kin Chee describes in Chapter 2. He shares his thoughts on how his role as a teacher is continually redefined with each new student. Teaching is more than the instructional part of the job and this chapter encourages the reader to begin considering what this profession truly entails. To help the reader understand the role of schools, Christopher Blake and Connie Monroe present, in Chapter 3, a difficult topic related to the purpose of schools, one that is often overlooked in teacher education: moral education. Teaching morals is inevitable; whether we teach them overtly or not, students experience character education every day that is spent in the classroom. This chapter, however, proposes a new approach to this type of education considering the diversification of our society and schools. The reader is challenged to think about how one determines what is “moral” in a diverse society where there is perhaps minimal consensus.

    Part II focuses on the policies that are commonly established in schools and perhaps mandated by the government. Jill Underly, in Chapter 4, addresses the role that politics plays in the profession of teaching. Politics is involved in education at all levels—from federal, state, and local governments to school boards and individual schools. This chapter depicts one teacher's experiences with these various facets of politics and how they have affected what she understands to be the “inner workings of the school.” Chapter 5 presents Wayne Au's views on tracking and the effect it has on students' success or failure in school. While some tracking occurs beyond the control of the individual teacher, there is also another form of tracking that is often employed within the classroom, and this chapter challenges the reader to consider the potential results of a tracking system and how it may affect the learner in the end.

    Part III has as its theme the topic of school programs, an issue that is of major concern in recent years. Betty Eng provides a detailed account of her personal teaching experiences with curriculum programs in Chapter 6. Her focus is on how educational reform in Hong Kong has resulted in a shift in the curricula used in classrooms around the world, and she challenges the reader to consider what education truly is and how to help students achieve this notion of education. Many schools have programs to work with nonnative speakers of English, but these programs are not enough to help meet these students' needs. Chris Carger, in Chapter 7, addresses, through many of her own personal experiences, how diverse classrooms have demanded that she take a different approach to teaching and learning. She emphasizes the importance of getting to know the students, their backgrounds, and their needs.

    Part IV centers on the instructional practices that might be addressed in greater detail in the preservice teacher's methods courses. In Chapter 8, Teresa Rishel and Paul Chamness Miller address the importance of establishing relationships with students, parents, administrators, and the community, in order to achieve greater success in teaching. Crystal Reimer addresses, in Chapter 9, preventative measures that teachers could take to avoid potential behavioral problems by once again reinforcing the idea that the teacher must get to know the students as individuals. Teresa Rishel, in Chapter 10, discusses the issue of safety, another part of classroom management, focusing primarily on the mental well-being of students in order to understand better what goes on in the minds of young people who engage in acts of violence such as suicide or school shootings. This is a topic that is often unpleasant to consider, but one that cannot be ignored in today's world. In Chapter 11, Magdalena Mok discusses how in the 21st century assessment is changing, especially concerning standardized testing and its effect on curriculum. Along with this shift in emphasis on standardized testing comes the idea of comparing the assessment of learning and the assessment for learning. Chapter 12 is an account of Pamela Miller's experiences in learning to use technology in the classroom as a teacher who did not grow up with computers as current preservice teachers typically experience. In today's teacher job market, it is imperative that future teachers have significant skills in using technology to its fullest potential in the delivery of instruction, and this chapter discusses some of the technologies that may be available to the new teacher.

    The last section, Part V, addresses issues that are important for preparing the preservice teacher for entering the workforce as a teacher. Joseph McSparran's Chapter 13 is an account of his experiences as principal and superintendent in hiring new teachers. In order to make the most of this important time in the preservice teacher's career, it is imperative to begin thinking about the job search at the beginning of one's education, rather than waiting until it is time to interview. Chapter 14 is an account of Erin Mikulec's experiences during her first year of teaching in the public schools. Regardless of the quantity of courses a preservice teacher takes, there will always be unanswered questions. This is due to the fact that teaching is not prescriptive; each teacher, student, administrator, school, and parent is unique. While the experiences presented in this chapter may never be shared by anyone else, the goal of the chapter is to let the reader know that, despite the challenges that arise in the first year, teaching does become easier with time.

    I have included within each chapter a brief note explaining why the particular topic was included in the book and to help contextualize the topic. At the end of the chapter is a list of suggested further reading that a preservice teacher may choose to read outside of class if he or she finds the topic of particular interest. Most of the suggested readings were also written by experienced classroom teachers. This is particularly important because, as previously mentioned, the chapters presented in this book are of one individual's opinions. By reading other books on similar topics, the future teacher will gain additional perspectives on the issue, affording him or her a greater opportunity to develop an informed opinion on the matter. In addition to these suggested readings is a list of suggested questions that may be used to write one's own narratives and personal journal responses to the readings. Writing responses to the chapters will allow the reader the opportunity to organize thoughts and develop an opinion. This may aid the reader in realizing where he or she might have questions that remain unanswered on the topic or perhaps it will enable the reader to simply express in words those thoughts that might be in his or her mind but not yet formally formulated. By having these thoughts organized on paper, one is better prepared for an interview where questions about these issues may arise. It is also suggested that these questions be used to facilitate discussions in the classroom or with a cooperating teacher in a field experience. Through discussion, one is able to gain a better grasp of the situation. What is more, hearing opposing perspectives may not change one's opinion but will engage a group of students in a healthy debate to perhaps appreciate another point of view. These methods are not only important to the learning process, but to the development of one's individual beliefs and philosophies on teaching and learning.

    As a former high school teacher and now teacher educator, I have intended to provide preservice teachers with a solid understanding of the issues included in this book in order to prepare them for what lies ahead. My colleagues and I firmly believe that teaching is more than delivering instruction; as the following chapters will indicate, there is a plethora of issues that every preservice teacher must consider prior to entering the profession. My goal for the reader of this book is to develop an informed opinion about various topics that will ultimately prepare him or her for what is waiting down the road.

  • About the Editors

    Paul Chamness Miller is Assistant Professor of Foreign Language Education in the Division of Teacher Education at the University of Cincinnati. He received a doctorate in foreign language education at Purdue University in 2003. Prior to pursuing his doctorate, he taught French in both rural and urban schools. He has taught French at the college level, as well as Foreign Language and TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) methods courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels. He has also taught courses in teacher education on exploring teaching as a career and on educational technology, in addition to supervising field experiences and student teaching. He has published articles in Phi Delta Kappan, Multicultural Perspectives, and the Electronic Magazine of Multicultural Education, and is a co-guest editor of a volume of Research in Second Language Learning on the topic of content-based instruction. He has also published book reviews in TESL-EJ and Education Review. He is a member of the board of reviewers for CALICO [Computer Assisted Language Instruction Consortium] Journal and TESL-EJ and is also an executive peer reviewer of Educational Technology & Society. His research interests include issues in second language acquisition, English language learners, and multicultural education. He also has a passion for recruiting students of color into teacher education.

    About the Contributors

    Wayne Au, a former high school English and history teacher, is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He is an editorial associate for the education journal Rethinking Schools and sits on the steering committee of the National Coalition of Education Activists. His work on critical classroom practice has been published in Rethinking Schools, Rethinking Our Classrooms Vol. II, Beyond Heroes and Holidays, and Resistance in Paradise, among others. In 2002, he received the Early Career Advocate for Justice Award from the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.

    William Ayers is a school reform activist, Distinguished Professor of Education, and Senior University Scholar at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), where he teaches courses in interpretive research, urban school change, and youth and the modern predicament. He is the founder of the Small Schools Workshop and the Center for Youth and Society at UIC. A graduate of the Bank Street College of Education and Teachers College, Columbia University, he has written extensively about social justice, democracy, and education. His interests focus on the political and cultural contexts of schooling as well as the meaning and ethical purposes of teachers, students, and families. His articles have appeared in many journals, including Harvard Educational Review, Journal of Teacher Education, Teachers College Record, Rethinking Schools, The Nation, and The Cambridge Journal of Education. His books include A Kind and Just Parent: The Children of Juvenile Court (1997), The Good Preschool Teacher, (1989), and To Teach: The Journey of a Teacher (1993), which was named Book of the Year in 1993 by Kappa Delta Pi and won the Witten Award for Distinguished Work in Biography and Autobiography in 1995. His latest books are Fugitive Days: A Memoir (2001) and On the Side of the Child: Summerhill Revisited (2003).

    Christopher Blake is Vice President of Academic Affairs at Mount Saint Mary's University in Maryland. Previously, he was Professor of Education, Director of Teacher Education, and Chair of the Department of Education. His research interests include ethnography in teacher education and the role of teacher perspectives and voices in educational practices. He has also served as a university teacher and high school teacher of social studies in London, England.

    Chris Carger is Associate Professor in the Department of Literacy Education at Northern Illinois University. Her research interests integrate the areas of bilingual education, English language learning, multicultural children's literature, and narrative inquiry. She stays in close contact with elementary education classrooms and is a bilingual program consultant. She also directs a service learning course each semester in which college students read aloud to Latino children and facilitate vocabulary and art experiences connected to multicultural children's literature. Her book, Of Borders and Dreams: A Mexican-American Experience of Urban Education, describes in detail her work with a bilingual student transitioning from elementary school to high school in Chicago.

    Kin T. Chee has taught Japanese, Chinese, and English/language arts for 14 years in Grades 6 through 12 and is currently a teacher of Japanese in central New York. He has also taught in Singapore (Grade 6) and Japan (EFL). He is an active member of the Northeast Council of Teachers of Japanese and is a frequent presenter at workshops and conferences across the country, mostly on language pedagogy based on action research that he conducts in his own classroom. He was invited by the New York State Department of Education to serve on a committee to establish norming standards between New York State's Regents exams and SAT II test scores in Japanese and has served on a committee for the last five years to develop Japanese sample Regents exams. His article “Professional Needs of Non-Native Japanese Language Teachers” was published in the December 2003 issue of the Canadian Association for Japanese Language Education Newsletter. He received his master's degree in foreign language education from the University of Iowa.

    Betty C. Eng is a Lecturer in the Department of Educational Psychology, Counseling, and Learning Needs at the Hong Kong Institute of Education (HKIEd), a major teacher education institute providing preservice and in-service training. Previously, she was a counselor with an international school in Hong Kong and at universities in the United States. A Chinese American, she was a faculty member in the Asian American Studies and Women's Studies programs and in the School of Education at California State University, Sacramento, and a faculty member in the Department of Asian American Studies at the University of California, Davis, before making Hong Kong her home for 15 years. Her fields of interest are teacher knowledge, cross-cultural studies, gender, and counseling. She is currently an Ed.D. student at the Ontario Institute of Studies for Education at the University of Toronto. Her thesis is an exploration of teacher knowledge through personal narratives focusing on identity, culture, and sense of belonging.

    Joseph McSparran is Associate Professor of Secondary Education at Kutztown University in Pennsylvania. He received his Ed.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. He teaches undergraduate courses on American education as well as graduate courses in school law. He also supervises student teachers. He has served as Director of the Allentown Alliance Project and as Director of the Urban Learning Center at Kutztown. He has also worked as superintendent, assistant superintendent, high school principal, and assistant principal in the public school system in Pennsylvania.

    Erin A. Mikulec is completing her Ph.D. in Foreign Language Education at Purdue University. She received her master's degree from Middlebury College in Vermont. She is also currently a Spanish and French teacher at the middle school and high school levels. In addition to this teaching experience, she has taught Spanish for a number of years at the college level. She also served as instructor and field experience supervisor for preservice teacher education courses.

    Pamela K. Miller is a sixth-grade English teacher in LaPorte, Indiana. She has been teaching for 15 years. The first 13 years of her teaching career involved working with students whom her school district determined to be “academically low achievers.” Ten years of that time were spent teaching students through computer-assisted instruction. The next three years entailed piloting an academic program in which students were assisted in small groups for math, English, and reading. For the past two years, she has been teaching sixth-grade English to approximately 125 students. She is also involved in an after-school program with court-appointed students. This program services students in Grades 6 through 8. She is currently working on her master's of education through Indiana Wesleyan University.

    Magdalena Mo Ching Mok is Principal Lecturer in the Department of Educational Psychology, Counseling and Learning Needs at the Hong Kong Institute of Education, where she teaches Curriculum and Assessment, Research Methods, and Education Project to preservice and in-service teachers. Before joining the Institute in 1999, she taught research methods to postgraduate students at Macquarie University in Australia for 10 years. She received her Ph.D. in education from the University of Hong Kong and her M.S. degree in statistics from Glasgow University. Her research interests are assessment, psychometrics, self-regulated learning, and school culture. She coauthored Catholic Schools 2000 and published seven book chapters and over 30 international refereed journal articles.

    Connie Monroe is Assistant Professor of Education at Mount Saint Mary's University in Maryland, where she serves as coordinator of secondary programs. Prior to entering the field of teacher education, she was a high school and middle school teacher of French and of English as a second language. Her research interests include the lives of teachers, teacher development, and the role of schools in society.

    JoAnn Phillion is Associate Professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at Purdue University. Prior to receiving her doctorate, she was an ESL teacher in Japan for six years and in Canada for three years. Her research interests are in narrative approaches to multiculturalism, teacher knowledge, and teacher education. She teaches graduate courses in curriculum theory and multicultural education and an undergraduate course in preservice teacher development with a focus on narrative. She is also involved in international teacher development in Hong Kong and Honduras. She was the recipient of the American Educational Research Association Division B Dissertation of the Year Award in 2000, the Purdue Faculty of Education Outstanding Teaching Award in 2002, and Purdue University Teaching for Tomorrow Award in 2003. She is the author of Narrative Inquiry in a Multicultural Landscape: Multicultural Teaching and Learning (2002). She has served on the editorial board of Curriculum Inquiry since 1999 and was appointed an editor in 2003.

    Crystal Reimer is an adapted physical education (APE) teacher in Plano, Texas. She has taught public school (elementary, middle school, and high school) for eight years, including physical education and English. She has also coached several sports. She is currently teaching elementary physical education in Dallas, where her interest grew in programming for students with disabilities. She is currently completing her master's degree in APE at Texas Woman's University.

    Teresa Rishel is Assistant Professor of Curriculum and Instruction and Middle Childhood Education at Kent State University. She taught and served as principal for a number of years at the elementary level prior to receiving her Ph.D. in Curriculum Studies from Purdue University, where she also received the Outstanding Dissertation Award from the Department of Curriculum and Instruction in 2004. She published an article in Spring 2003, entitled “Letter to My Son: My Lived Experience with Suicide” in the Journal of Critical Inquiry into Curriculum and Instruction.

    Jill Underly has been a history and sociology high school teacher in northwest Indiana for five years. She also coaches sports and sponsors several student organizations and is actively involved in the teachers' union in her school. She holds a master's degree in secondary education from Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis.

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