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Bad teacher under reflection.


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.

According to Bochner, "Storytelling is both a method of knowing--a social practice--and a way of telling about our lives." (5) This dual nature of narrative inquiry is emphasized by teacher-educators Nona Lyons and Vicki LaBoskey as both a way of learning and a way to express that learning. (6) From Jerome Bruner, (7) Lyons and LaBoskey take the notion that narrative knowing is complementary to traditional scientific knowing. Knowledge is socially constructed and situated, which is the heart of story-telling. (8) We can generate theorized knowledge through narrative inquiry, and use narrative inquiry as a way of understanding theory.

In his introduction to a recent special issue of the TESOL Quarterly (the dominant journal for teachers of English as a Second Language), Gary Barkhuizen comments on the benefits of narrative inquiry:
   In the process of constructing narratives, narrators make sense of
   their lived experience; they understand it, give it coherence, make
   connections, and unravel its complexity. The converse, of course,
   may also be true; the act of narration can sometimes confront
   disconnections, dead-ends, and uncertainties. (9)

The latter use of narrative inquiry is particularly important to the story being told here, in which I confront tensions between confidence/insecurity, and expertise/inexperience.

The Story of My Teaching

I worked as an aide during this sabbatical period with a K-12 ESL teacher, Diane. * In my journal writing I focus on work I did with two boys: Paulo, a 7th grade boy who came to the US three years ago from a country in South America, and Mark, a 10th grade boy whose family moved here from a European country a couple months before I met him. This reflective journal alone demonstrates the storied nature of experience. When I re-read it, I see myself using the students and Diane as characters in a story into which I was inserting myself. I understood our actions and motivations in terms of a long story are surrounding my growing self-awareness as a teacher. Here, though, I'm more interested in re-storying what I read in that journal, to use narrative inquiry as an organizing principle retro-actively to make sense of and learn from what happened that particular spring.

There are two layers of meaning-construction at work in this analysis. There is a primary level in the act of journaling itself as I narrate my experience, and a secondary level as I re-read that narrative and see thematic connections across time and settings. The secondary level of meaning-construction helped me identify the three themes I will exemplify and discuss here: overconfidence, a preference for the easier student, and blame. For each of these themes, I will present and discuss examples from my reflective journal.


This first theme ties together incidents when I am displaying expertise to myself, assuring myself that I know what I'm doing. Here is my first piece of journaling about Paulo, after observing him for one morning:
   From South America, hardly any prior formal education before coming
   here 3 years ago. He is tall, quiet, and attentive. He is old
   enough to be in 9th grade, but is in 7th.

I was observing Diane working with him and four other children in her ESL office.
   Paulo has some writing work to do. Diane shifts over to work with
   Paulo. She reads aloud to him from his text about indigenous
   people. When done, she indicates to him which questions he could
   answer with that information. She then gets him to read the next
   passage. He reads quietly and hesitantly, getting frequently stuck
   on words (suffix difficulties). Diane skims and summarizes the text
   a bit, and turns to the questions for him to answer (fill in the
   blank). "So the main idea is ... what?" No answer. "Are they
   learning science?" No answer. "They're basically learning to
   survive, right?" "What do they eat?" Paulo repeats part of the
   question: "They eat?"

Paulo read aloud a passage, with prompting/correction from Diane. The other three students continued to work silently on their own. Paulo, with Diane's help, worked on a study guide for about fifteen minutes. At the end of class, Paulo interrupted Diane, who was then working with another student, to tell her what he would work on before their next meeting.

After the observation, I wrote the following reflection:
   As I watched Paulo I was trying to work out a puzzle: after three
   years in school here, why was he still struggling so much with
   reading and writing? The obvious answer is his lack of previous
   formal schooling, but there might be more going on. I tried to
   focus on what was going on cognitively during reading activities.
   From his reading aloud, I could see his struggles with longer,
   multimorphemic, words, but I couldn't really tell much about
   comprehension. I could see he had trouble understanding the texts,
   but not exactly why (The words? The content? The organization of
   ideas?). Or maybe he understood more than the "study
   guide/worksheet" revealed, and he was just having trouble with that

I think I will try the following types of activities:
   A modified think-aloud: after reading a sentence, I will ask Paulo
   to tell me what he thinks it means, and what he was thinking as he
   read it. I will model this for him first.

   Create a different comprehension task: I'm not sure what this will
   be, yet. The think-aloud will help, but I'd like another task that
   involves writing. A graphic organizer of main ideas?

I think after a one-hour observation I am already beginning to get Paulo. The voices of theory and expertise are weaving together here ("what was going on cognitively ..."). As a teacher, I had hopes that after my diagnosis of his reading needs I could follow a simple prescription for improvement.

Here is my first journaling about Mark:
   I observed and worked with Mark for about an hour. He simply needs
   a lot of help with his homework. He is from Europe, and has just
   been in the US a short while (family moved here). I have the sense
   he has had a good education before coming here, and is quite smart.
   We worked on a rough draft of a paper about the St. Louis arch.
   Watching him work and seeing his notecards and outline, I sense
   that he has a strong perfectionist streak, and likes his writing to
   be perfect before moving on. His ideas seem to run ahead of his
   proficiency level. Perfectionism + low proficiency = very slow
   writing. He might need work with more bottom-up strategies for
   getting his work done.

My thought was that he mostly needed to work on improving his writing process, as he seemed to be following writing habits that weren't working that well, which he was most likely transferring from his writing process in his first language. As with Paulo, I attempted a quick diagnosis and prescription.

One day when Diane was out sick, Paulo and I worked in the library. I asked him what he wanted to work on, and I thought at first he said "the fractions." Later, when it was clear he had to write something about The Diary of Anne Frank, I understood he must have been saying (or intending to say) "reflections." My guess was that he might not know exactly what that word meant. I asked him if he had an assignment sheet for it, and he looked through his notebook for a few minutes, unsuccessfully. His notebook was a bit of a shambles.

I asked him what the word "reflection" meant to him, and he said it should show he understood the book. I told him that would be part of it, because the reflection did serve that purpose for most teachers, and so it should summarize some of what happened in the book. I suggested to him that it should also have some of what he thought about the book. I orally went through the different ways he could show that, then wrote them down: What did the book remind you of? How did the book make you feel? Did you like the book, and why? We talked a bit about the last question, and I wrote down his reasons for liking it.

After jotting those ideas down, I reviewed them and asked him how he would organize them in a paragraph. That gave him trouble--so I prompted him by telling him that when I first asked him about the book, he reviewed the plot, so maybe that would be a good place to start. I asked him to summarize the plot for me orally, then I repeated back to him my understanding of it, and prompted him to write it down. I wrote in my reflective journal about that moment:
   He took that prompting very well. Maybe too well. It's very
   tempting to just tell him what to write, because he doesn't resist
   it at all. I want to model for him the kind of thinking that goes
   into a complex writing task, but involve him as much as possible in
   that thinking. There is a tension between those two goals, for me.
   That's the art of scaffolding--to keep a learner involved and
   progressing without giving them more help than they need. Time ran
   out just as Paulo finished working on the summary--we didn't get
   into the real "reflections" part, but I left him with my notes.

In that reflection, I seem to just be displaying my knowledge to myself. Why would I do that? This self-talk props me up, but is it helping me learn anything about my teaching? Here is a limitation of my journaling: rather than help me learn something about practice, it just confirms my current state of expertise; I am already at the end of my story of teacher development. My reflections continued:
   His English still shows some of the same issues I identified last
   time --the seemingly intractable grammar problems. At one point I
   tried to give him a mini-lesson on articles. He had written in his
   summary of the book: "The girl hid in the house." It would have
   been more appropriate in the context to have written "a house," so
   I asked him if he knew what the difference would be between "the
   house" and "a house" in that context. He said something about
   possession that I didn't follow at the time, and so I orally gave
   him the usual explanation about first mentions of a noun in
   discourse using "a," and then later moving to "the." He could tell
   I was indicating that he should change the "the" and erased it,
   then he wrote down "our" in its place. All along he had been
   thinking I was comparing "the house" to "our house" (he himself
   says something like /a ae/ for "our")."Our house" would have made
   no sense at all in the paragraph he was writing, but he was going
   to write it that way if he thought that was what I was suggesting.
   That indicates three problems: serious grammatical issues,
   phonological problems, and over-compliance. He'll do whatever
   someone asks of him, whether it makes sense to him or not. Could
   that instinct for compliance--pleasing authority--be interfering
   with his learning?

So, perhaps the affirmation of competence that "the voice of expertise" gives me is needed, because elsewhere, as above, I recognize myself as hopelessly inexpert. I might try to wring a useful reflection out of my incompetence ("Could that instinct ..."), but that doesn't change the facts of the situation: I was struggling in these instructional moments to just do no harm.

A Preference for Easier Student

That last story also relates to a second theme in these journal writings: how much I preferred working with Paulo than Mark. As another example, in my second meeting with Paulo, he had begun work with Diane on an essay related to Martin Luther King Day. He and Diane had webbed some ideas for how he could connect his life with Martin Luther King's ideals, and he had the idea to write about problems he had with his family that were resolved peacefully. I thought it was time to move from the web to an organized outline, so most of our time was spent talking that through as I wrote down ideas. Paulo was very good at responding to my suggestions/ideas/prompts.

I first asked him to describe his problems with his parents. They were about difficulties communicating with each other. I kept pushing Paulo to think of specific incidents that could be the details of the problem description. He had trouble thinking of any, but we came up with general types of problems, such as when he didn't understand the chores they wanted him to do. His mother would get mad, and he would get mad in return. We built the essay around this issue (conflicts solved peacefully by identifying them as misunderstandings, and how understanding was achieved). By the end of the 50 minutes, he had completed his introduction paragraph and started his second.
   What struck me the most working with Paulo wasn't just his
   compliance (which was so refreshing!), but the types of errors he
   made in his writing.... I spoke with Diane about these issues
   afterward, and we compared Paulo with Mark. Unlike Paulo, Mark does
   not take direction well, or accept suggestions. He tightly controls
   what and how he writes. He will not let a sentence be until he
   considers it grammatically/lexically/contextually perfect. Drafting
   is painfully slow for him (and me).

   Is it right for me to feel so much teaching pleasure just because
   the learner is so obedient? How is obedience connected with

These reflective moments reveal my own learning about myself as a teacher, and about learning/teaching generally. I'm stepping outside the plot of my work with Paulo and Mark, and stepping into a longer plot line: what am I learning about myself? About ESL? Questions such as these should be the core outcome of reflective inquiry, but were just beginning to pop up in my journaling after a few months of engagement with these two students.

Related to some work Paulo and I were doing on The Outsiders, I wrote the following on what turned out to be my last day with him:
   There were a couple questions about events in the book he couldn't
   remember at all, so he didn't know where to look to find the
   answers. I was unable to help. He said he has trouble remembering
   things in books. I asked him if he remembers things he sees in
   movies, and he said that was no problem. I continue to think he has
   trouble processing print. We had that discussion on the way out of
   the library.

So, in our last minute together, I'm finally able to get Paulo to begin to open up about his own understanding of his English difficulties. Could I have pulled that out of him earlier if I had tried? The question leads back to my initial contact with Paulo when I arrived at a rather quick diagnosis of what his difficulties were and what help he needed. It took me three months to realize I should have investigated what he thought his learning needs were.

One day when I was working with Mark, I can read myself trying to address one of my weaknesses and challenge a bad habit. Mark had not yet finished an essay on the St. Louis arch, so we were going to work on that. He had received some feedback from his teacher, and knew he had to add citations and make it longer. He mostly wanted help with making it longer, and I could tell he just wanted to add information from his note cards. However, I knew from before that there were deeper problems with the essay than note cards could address, and decided to wade into those (also knowing they might help him make the essay longer). I went into it with some fear--Mark did not take suggestions for revision very well. I wrote:
   The essay really has no thesis--the introduction has two sentences,
   and Mark claims the thesis is "The St. Louis arch is a national
   monument and millions of people have visited it." Not only is this
   not an argumentative statement, most of the information he presents
   in the essay is not related to those points (he has info about the
   history of its construction, its physical characteristics). The
   second sentence in the intro is slightly more argumentative ("The
   arch is a symbol of westward expansion"), so I convince Mark that
   it would make a better thesis. I have a great deal more trouble
   getting Mark to think about what else he needs to add to the
   introduction to make a connection between that thesis and the
   information he presents in the following paragraphs. I tried to
   prompt a sentence from him ("what sentence would connect that
   thesis and your information about the making of the arch?" etc.),
   but it was clear he didn't want to do that. He wants to be given a
   sentence. That part is understandable--the maddening part is that
   when I would suggest a sentence, he would never like it. It
   involved this painful negotiation. It took about half an hour to
   construct two sentences on the board that could be added to his
   introduction. His essay also had no conclusion, and he really never
   seems to have heard of such an animal. So we talked a bit about
   that, and I outlined some standard ideas for what goes in a
   conclusion. After we did that, he asked if he should add in some
   information about when the guys who made the arch died. After all
   the work we had done, it was clear he was still focused on just
   adding more decontextualized info to the essay to make it longer. I
   tried to tell Mark that the info had to relate to the thesis and be
   interesting in some way. He still decided to just stick it in the
   body somewhere. He knew he had to add citations, but didn't know
   anything about them (how they are structured, whether or not he
   needed a reference list).

   The contrast with Paulo is clear. While Paulo will accept a
   suggestion even when he shouldn't, Mark won't accept the suggestion
   even when he should. Paulo should be more resistant and I want Mark
   to be less so. I come back to a complementary question: is Mark's
   resistance interfering with his learning?

My journal ends with a comparative reflection about working with Paulo and Mark:
   I'll miss working with Paulo more than Mark. I felt I was
   accomplishing more with Paulo than Mark, and also that Paulo was
   more appreciative of what you did for him. So, those are kind of
   selfish reasons for the preference, and display my laziness. Mark
   was more of a challenge. To make progress with Mark would take a
   lot more effort, but in these pull-out situations you're not even
   allowed to put in effort: only react to immediate need. I do plan
   to continue working with Diane to help her change that situation.

I recognize at this point that my preference for working with Paulo did not reflect well on me as a teacher. I'm admitting that I don't like the extra work required to help Mark. The final point I make about pull-out situations relates to a theme I will pick up next about blame--how I often blame the context of teaching for my failures.


On a day when Diane was absent, I ended up with three of her students, not having done any lesson preparation. Maria, a student from the Philippines, had nothing she really needed to work on. Mark was mostly finished with an essay we had been working on, and Chen, a student from China, had nothing she wanted help with. I came up with a bit of work for Maria and Chen to do on their own. Mark got out his essay and I looked over that quickly. I didn't really want to get into editing it because I knew Diane wanted Mark to consider the essay done, without his continuing perfectionist editing. I just gave him a bit of feedback on the format of his works-cited list. Then he turned to an economics textbook and opened to a section he was working on about annual percentage rates and finance charges. We worked through a bit of that, and an exercise about the evaluation of some different loans. After the girls finished their work, the four of us spent the final 15 minutes or so just talking--about schools in different parts of the world, strict teachers, teenage freedom.

In reflecting on that class time, I focused on how Diane's ESL program worked:
   If I really had curricular control we could do an interesting
   comparative-education project, I think. I'll talk with Diane about
   that. So I had three students for 45 minutes with no plan, and none
   of them with a pressing need. What could I have done differently?
   There's certainly a lot I could have done if I felt I had more
   control of the learning situation. But my role is "help students
   with their school work," and I've defined that as more of a passive
   job. However, it doesn't have to be.

As I do here, I often found myself struggling with the structure of the program within which Diane had to work. I know she struggled with it, too. However, I was too quick to blame this situation for causing my problems as a teacher.

Another example is a time I worked with Paulo on some papers related to an essay he was working on about what life will be like when he becomes very old. He had an assignment sheet and the first four of five paragraphs already written. We worked on a conclusion paragraph, and ended up focusing on some tense issues he was having. I first got him to underline all the verbs, doing the first couple for him. I then asked him what tense was, and he didn't know. After I explained it, he couldn't say if what he had written should be past, present, or future. I showed him how most of it was correctly in the future tense, and we worked on getting the rest of it right. After that, we worked on adding something "catchy" to the first paragraph, which he thought he was supposed to have. I reflected on Paulo's compliance:
   As before, I'm now struggling with getting around Paulo's easy
   compliance. I want him to understand what we're doing, what changes
   I suggest, but I'm not sure if we're getting there. I feel like I
   get too talky when he seems to not know something, but I don't just
   want him to write down the transition I prompt him to write, I want
   him to know what a transition is for and maybe come up with one on
   his own. I know there is a nice inductive method for doing this,
   but we have a real time issue. This is a constraint of working on
   someone else's curriculum.

It's easy, when one is confronting a weakness in one's teaching, to blame it on the context, as I do here. I start off identifying something I feel I am doing wrong, and quickly shift to writing about how the situation is out of my control, constrained by others: Diane, other teachers, the students, the school.

One day Diane mentioned that Paulo had some science to study for. That excited me, as it would be different from the work we'd been doing. It would be content, and reading, rather than writing. When Paulo came in, though, he wanted to work on The Outsiders. He had a study guide that was full of questions he had to answer. Two problems immediately presented themselves: I had never read the book (or seen the movie), and he had only read a few pages into it. I had to make a quick decision about how to spend time. Should I just ask him to read silently, till he had the right information to answer a question? No, that didn't seem right: he read without comprehension. Just having him and me take turns reading the book aloud seemed like a waste of time, but there didn't seem much else to do.

I started by having him read over the questions about the first two chapters while I quickly read the back cover and skimmed a few pages. I saw that the back cover blurb had some of the information needed to answer the first question. He should certainly have been able to answer it ("what's the difference between the Greasers and the Socs?') based on the 10 pages he had already read, but he couldn't. I tried to have a general discussion with him about what the story was about before we began reading aloud from where he had stopped. I also skimmed to see what else he had already read that might be useful for answering the first few questions, and we discussed those parts.
   I was happy to do the reading aloud. It went fast (we didn't have
   much time), and Paulo would stop me when there was something he
   didn't understand. I also stopped often to talk about what was
   going on.

   I felt frustrated at not being able to plan my own lessons, and to
   have to step mid-way into someone else's lesson, obviously. Diane
   feels this frustration at that, too, but feels obligated to first
   help students with their coursework, rather than teach them
   anything separate of her own. I see the pressure. It's an
   institutional issue. Everyone looks to the ESL program as support
   for the students in their mainstream classes. I think I'll talk
   more with Diane about this. It might hurt the students' grades in
   the short term to move away from the current model but maybe help
   them in the long run if she made the class "her own." The flip side
   is that it would add a lot of work for her. As it is, she doesn't
   have to prep, really.

As in other entries, I see myself working to find a programmatic fix to the challenges I faced. I'd moved from diagnosing student problems that I could fix instructionally to diagnosing instructional problems that could only be fixed programmatically, a shift in responsibility that let me off he hook. I begin my journaling with a narrative in which my character is an expert problem-solver, but as that fails I move toward constructing a narrative of powerlessness in the face of forces beyond my control. Had I more experience with the particularities of this situation--the students, the program, the administration--I imagine I would have identified, the way Diane had, exactly where I had agency and what the limits to that agency were. The blame would shift to critique, and then to action.


The overconfidence I started out this teaching experience with begins this story of an imbalance between expertise and experience. It is a story about the limits of my expertise. In my immediate reflections, I thought I was deploying expertise to make sense of my experiences, but my general lack of experience with learners in that particular situation becomes more apparent through the lenses of the other two themes. My preference for the easier student comes out of that inexperience. Quite simply, my experience didn't prepare me to teach Mark, as if my Theories of Learning had all been built around the image of students like Paulo, students who would essentially agree to accept my protagonist role as expert. As I grow to recognize that I'm unable to help Mark as much as I'd like, I re-frame that story to be a plot about the program and its constraints, and my new character is an outsider-idealist blaming the system. In retrospect, my more distanced narrative inquiry reveals a character who is more of a bumbling antagonist in a narrative in which Diane and the students are the more appropriate protagonists.

As discussed by clinical psychologist Michael Bamberg, some narrative investigations "are apt, and often even designed, to reveal discrepancies between the told and the lived, and to reveal the fragmentations and the unknown in the narrative charting of self and identity." (10) My story exemplifies how narrative is inherent to practice and can be used later to analyze practice, and the latter analysis can reveal the tensions between the lived and the narratively examined. Psychologist Donald Polkinghorne claims:
   Language takes up the contingencies of existence, and the
   perceptual openness of life to the natural and intersubjective
   worlds, and molds them into a meaningfulness that is greater than
   the meaningfulness they originally hold. One of the ways language
   does this is to configure these givens into a narrative form in
   which desires and aspirations are used to transform the passing of
   life into an adventure of significance and drama. (11)

My use of narrative inquiry to examine reflective journaling wrings usefulness out of the struggle of teaching, transforms my frustrations into a meaningful drama. The secondary level of narrative inquiry above and beyond my original journaling helped me discover much about myself as a teacher. The tensions between my confidence and inexperience, my tendency to avoid difficulty and shift blame, was invisible to me in the teaching moment.

A narrative approach to analyzing experience is not a fatalistic and uncritical one. We exert agency over the stories we are part of. Another way of viewing narrative inquiry from this perspective is through the framework of master vs. counter narratives. According to Molly Andrews, master narratives provide "what is assumed to be a normative experience." (12) These are the stories that embody internalized expectations for how the world is supposed to work. Example master narratives from my journaling would be "expertise should determine practice," or "local institutional constraints prevent change." Counter-narratives rebut these expectations, whether through challenging the authority of expertise or deploying power to critique and confront existing institutionalized practices.

The construction of theorizing counter-narratives by teaching professionals offers a way to bring together theory and practice, knowledge and experience. My early journaling here demonstrates my attempts to match knowledge and practice uncritically, to create a simple coherence between knowledge and experience. When we tell stories, we tend to tell stories that reflect/support the dominant stories--the master narratives. However, that is not the only possible relationship between narrativized experience and knowledge. As Andrews says:
   When, for whatever reason, our own experiences do not match the
   master narratives with which we are familiar, or we come to
   question the foundations of those dominant tales, we are confronted
   with a challenge. How can we make sense of ourselves, and our
   lives, if the shape of our life story looks deviant compared to the
   regular lines of the dominant stories? (13)

She is drawing a tension here between experience and expertise. It's an interesting tension because the two concepts have an etymological connection: originally, "expertise" is that skill one gains from "experience," but now it's typical to think of "expertise" as coming from some sort of graduate training in contrast to "experience." The implication of Andrews is that the Master Narrative is the narrative of experts, but I think there are two ways to conceptualize it. On one hand, yes, the master narrative is the narrative of experts, which can be countered by the local knowledge (the "life story") gained through practice and experience. But on the other, the master narrative can be the life narrative itself, grounded in experience, which can be countered or resisted by new knowledge and theory from other contexts.

Which kind of counter-narrative should teacher-educators desire from their students? The most typical desire is for more of the kind of self-criticism in which students use the "expertise" that teacher-educators represent to question their practices. However, both types of counter-narrative are valuable, both evidence of different and equally important types of developing expertise. I have always pushed teachers-to-be to keep reflective journals as part of being an inquiring professional, and I've taught the use of narrative inquiry as a mode of investigation for action research. However, I haven't explicitly linked the two as I have demonstrated here, as a way of performing a two-tiered examination of experience. I think such a use of journaling arte-facts can push beginning teachers beyond surface-level reflection on experience, which can be constrained by the master narratives of immediate political, educational, institutional, personal, and experiential narratives to the more critically-reflective counter narrative that distance can provide.

Joel Hardman

Southern Illinois University



(1) Kathleen M. Bailey, Andrew Curtis, and David Nunan, Pursuing Professional Development: The Self as Source (Boston: Heinle & Heinle, 2001), 48.

(2) Jean Clandinin, and Michael Connelly, Narrative Inquiry: Experience and Story in Qualitative Research (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2000).

(3) Carola Conle, "The rationality of narrative inquiry in research and professional development," European Journal of Teacher Education, 24, no. 1 (2001): 30.

(4) Arthur Bochner, "It's about time: Narrative and the divided self," Qualitative Inquiry, 3, (1997): 429.

(5) Ibid., 435.

(6) Nona Lyons, and Vicki LaBoskey, Narrative Inquiry in Practice: Advancing the Knowledge of Teaching (New York: Teachers College Press, 2002), 2-3.

(7) Jerome Bruner, Actual Minds, Possible Worlds (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986).

(8) Lyons and LaBoskey, Narrative Inquiry in Practice, 18.

(9) Gary Barkhuizen, "Narrative Knowledging in TESOL," TESOL Quarterly 45, no. 3, (2011): 393.

(10) Michael Bamberg, "Considering counter narratives," in Considering Counter-Narratives: Narrating, Resisting, Making sense, ed. Michael Bamberg and Molly Andrews (Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2004), 354.

(11) Donald Polkinghorne, Narrative Knowing and the Human Sciences (Albany: SUNY Press, 1988), 31.

(12) Molly Andrews, "Counter-Narratives and the Power to Oppose," in Considering Counter-Narratives: Narrating, Resisting, Making Sense, ed. Michael Bamberg and Molly Andrews (Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2004), 1.

(13) Ibid., 1.

* All identifying information (names, national origins, exact ages) has been changed for the purpose of confidentiality.
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Author:Hardman, Joel
Publication:Vitae Scholasticae
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2013
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