The Voices of Teaching
As we examine history we see the power of narrative, how it offered a way for humans of the past to explicate the unknowns of the world, and ultimately created narratives that became the fabric of civilization.
Connecting us to the past like a string woven through time by influencing everyday culture and beliefs, these narratives offer critical perspectives into events of the past, and without learning these stories there we are only exposed to one side.
While it is through education we can learn about the complex histories provided by narratives, too often there is not an opportunity to traverse into the narratives of educators.
We dream in narrative, daydream in narrative, remember, anticipate, hope, despair, believe, doubt, plan, revise, criticize, construct, gossip, learn, hate and love by narrative. In order really to live, we make up stories about ourselves and others, about the personal as well as the social past and future.
By nature, education is one of the most dynamic professions, with teachers being among the most skilled members of our society. They facilitate learning, going above and beyond providing information to help their students develop critical thinking skills to construct their worldview.
Inquiring about the narratives of education and the narratives of teachers, we are offered insight into the direct effects of policy changes in the classrooms and on teachers. Their stories can transport us to see a deeper meaning of education.
Research conducted by Elizabeth Currin, a Ph.D. candidate, examines teachers and their experiences, giving them a platform for their voice. Currin has been awarded the Rothman Doctoral Fellowship for her dissertation on this topic, "Storied Stance: An Oral History of Long-Term Teacher Researchers in the Age of Accountability."
Currin explains that her dissertation seeks to "...situate my participants' unique stories against the historical backdrop of the Age of Accountability, an era of metrics-driven, neoliberal education reform that largely began with the 1983 A Nation at Risk report and has continued in the 21st century with initiatives like No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and the Common Core State Standards.
In all of the media coverage, policy debates, and scholarship on these topics, teachers' voices can sometimes get lost. My dissertation affirms K-12 educators as knowledgeable change agents by allowing them to tell their stories.”
An inspiration to Currin's work, "The Culture of Education" by Jerome Bruner contributes the important definition of education to “help learners construct meanings, not simply to manage information. Meaning making requires an understanding of the ways of one’s culture—whether the subject in question is social studies, literature, or science.”
He makes the case that narrative is a tool for us to create understanding of the world around us, it “permits us to understand the present, the past, and the humanly possible in a uniquely human way.”
Teachers are the representatives of education and developing a “well-informed populace,” an indication that education upholds democracy. Each teacher undertakes the mission of education, arriving to the classroom to further their students’ skills and abilities as their worldview begins to take shape.
As teachers spend years in higher education to receive certification, it is important to look beyond the role of teacher to learn their individual narrative. Every teacher brings their personal perspective and experience to a classroom, and their stories may well be the reasons that have inspired these individuals to teach.
The voices of our teachers are intrinsic to education and by listening we can unlock a profound learning experience.
BELOW THE SURFACE
We are exposed to many stories everyday as content to be consumed. Some of them more clearly defined as we watch a TV show, while others create a subtle background to offer intrigue about a product. But those kinds of stories are only the tip of the iceberg of what is the true power of a story.
Currin's research is an especially intriguing approach to the importance of narrative, not only looking at how it helps us learn but how we can learn from these stories.
" I see my participants' stories as potentially beneficial for teachers and teacher candidates. In oral history, participants are known as narrators, and mine are definitely exceptional storytellers. One of their defining characteristics is their persistence. Not only have they stayed in the field when many, many teachers walk away, but they have maintained an inquiry stance towards their work, which I believe can serve as a model to others. Presenting that in the form of a story enables the audience to imagine themselves in those roles."
There is mutual benefit of students hearing their teacher’s stories. Teachers can be source of inspiration and hope for students, they can offer a safe place and words of guidance when growing up is tough. By sharing stories, teachers open the door for students to see what may be beyond their immediate surroundings as they go through their own identity development.
Looking from the past and into the future, it is an important note that teachers are able to offer an incredible perspective. The extensive education required to become a teacher, in addition to certifications and continuous professional development, places them in an ideal position to share their experiences.
One story that exemplifies how important it is for students to hear their stories is that of Drew Smith, an EduGator alumni and current teacher at Newberry High School in Alachua County, who was recently recognized through WCJB's "One Class at a Time" initiative for the month of February. His experience as a student was guided by exceptional teachers who fostered his love of learning and went above and beyond to create mentor relationships.
Smith notes one of the most important experiences he had in school and how that later became an important memory in his life:
"Growing up in Alachua county I was taught by amazing teachers throughout my K-12 years. I had especially strong relationships with my Social Studies teachers, specifically my now-retired 8th-grade history teacher Dr. Morris. When I was in his class he had to leave the school year early because he had cancer. This was my first experience with something as serious as cancer. He handled it without showing any fear and in fact left us saying something along the lines of "let me know if there is anything I can do for you." The way he faced that adversity had a significant impact on my adolescent mind.
Four years later, during my senior year of high school, I was diagnosed with Leukemia (Blood cancer). I faced that challenge the same way Dr. Morris faced his and without a doubt his impact on me gave me the strength to push through my treatment. I believe the greatest way to have an impact on a community, or nation, is by educating our youth on not only STEM subjects but also the humanities. A wise teacher once told me [paraphrasing from Maya Angelou] "They will most likely not remember the information you taught, but they will remember the way you made them feel." Some day another kid will be in the same situation I was and if possible I want to be there to help them the way Dr. Morris helped me."
This is reflective of the power of narrative. Smith's story shows how our experiences shape our perspectives and actions as well as how interconnected we are with other people and their experiences. We may not be able to predict the events of our lives, but when others share their stories it may be a guiding light for our individual paths.
More Than A Job
To Smith, teaching is more than a job commitment. He says, "Being a teacher means being a role model for all students. Teachers should be the best members of society. I take this position very seriously and the responsibility of educating young minds is paramount to all other goals. It is my job to guide my students towards adulthood where they will hopefully be contributing members of society."
It is important to look at these teacher's stories and see them as critical elements to advance the profession; to look to their stories for guidance. Their stories show us the why – why they have chosen teaching, why they continue to make the effort and work hard to guide students.
An especially unique role in education are teacher educators. Having progressed as teachers themselves, teacher educators are the ultimate mentors for pre-service teachers. Shelley Warm, a senior lecturer and director of the Site-based Implementation of Teacher Education (SITE) program, is an esteemed faculty member known for her dedication to teacher education.
Recently, Warm was recipient of the Florida Association of Teacher Educators' Mary L. Collins award, recognizing her as outstanding teacher educator of the year. As a teacher educator, she facilitates a masterful preparation of teachers, guiding students through the process by providing strong foundational skills for pre-service teachers as well as ongoing professional development.
Her aspirations to teach began as a child, noting "I don't remember a time when I didn't want to be a teacher. I was one of those children who would line up my dolls and animals and pretend to be their teacher." The passion she has for teaching continues to be a driving force in her work. She has operated in multiple roles in the field of education, ranging from work as a School Director/Principal, to a Community College Faculty/Department Chair, and, at the present, a University Faculty/Program Coordinator.
We remember the teachers who inspired us and gave memorable, enjoyable classroom experiences. The teachers who co-created learning so students develop critical thinking abilities of their own. We especially remember the teachers who took time to relate to us and offer a guiding hand during the stress of being an ever-changing youth. There is a special place in our hearts for these teachers.