See You When We Get There: Teaching for Change in Urban Schools.
Young urban teachers' voices seldom gain prominence in teacher education textbooks. Michie, who is already known for his memoir about teaching in Chicago's urban schools (Holler If You Hear Me, 1999), gives readers the opportunity to hear from more urban educators in See You When We Get There. Michie's portraits of five young urban teachers of color provide readers with a penetrating personal view inside public school classrooms.
See You When We Get There centers on the teaching personas and career goals of two African American, two Latina, and one Asian American teacher. We enter the classrooms of Nancy, Freda, Toni, Cynthia, and Liz and spend time there observing the interaction between teacher and student as well as among students. Each teacher portrayed in the book, according to Michie, is "working for change" in today's urban schools. The teachers' voices are interwoven with riveting classroom vignettes, then interpreted through Michie's own experience as a classroom teacher. How do teachers teach for diversity? How does one go about "teaching for change" in today's schools? These questions are explored by individual teachers as they go about the business of educating our youth.
Gloria Ladson-Billings--who is an internationally known expert in multicultural education--provides the Foreword. The remainder of the book is divided into seven sections: narrative portraits of each of the five young urban teachers, bracketed by Michie's introductory and concluding chapters. A brief Appendix provides additional details about the author's interviewing and observation techniques.
"Who wants to make a difference in this world?" Cynthia asks her sixth grade science students. "What responsibility, if any, do we have to help those in need?" Liz asks her world history students. "Can we learn from history? If so, how?" Freda asks the junior class at her high school. "Who has power? Who has privilege? What does that mean?" Nancy asks her eighth graders. The questions posed by these teachers in the everyday rhythm of instruction and Toni's reasoned efforts at relationship building among representatives of estranged racial groups vividly illustrate how teachers both teach for change and model appropriate behavior and thinking conducive to change. Readers enter different classrooms and observe different students in each of the five main chapters. Michie's richly descriptive narrative style pervades the entire book.
The author delivers an analysis of major themes from his interviews and classroom visits with the five teachers, as well as a thoughtful analysis of some problems encountered in this type of research, through a dialogic concluding chapter entitled "Teaching, Stories, and Troubled Times." A strength of the concluding chapter is Michie's intensively introspective examination of his own role as researcher. "I wondered," he says, "about my ability as a white man to convey the experiences of women of color, and about the ways my privileged social position and subjectivity were affecting how I interpreted what I heard and saw" (185). A second strength is Michie's ability to be critical of his own product, as illustrated in the following remark: "I'm under no illusions that these narratives are in any sense 'pure' representations of the teachers' lives and work" (184).
At the same time, several weaknesses of the text emerge. By its very nature, this study does not present clear, unbiased perspectives of five young teachers' work in urban classrooms. Michie's portraiture strategy can be likened more to that of an artist than of a photographer. His portraits of five classrooms, the young students filling these classrooms, and the teachers facilitating learning and teaching for change must be filtered through the author's own eyes and, as we read the narratives, through our own early educational experiences. Michie paints a sometimes gritty picture of students who are in school because they have to be and a frustrating picture of teachers whose training and noble motivations often provide insufficient coping strategies. And yet, there is also a picture of those infrequent times when teachers and students really connect.
Gloria Ladson-Billings states in the Foreword that See You When We Get There "speaks to new teachers, prospective teachers, and veteran teachers" (xiii). I agree with Ladson-Billings and add a third potential audience: oral historians. Michie's work is close to "portraiture," the attempt to depict the complex nature of human experience by using the perspectives of individuals living a particular experience (Sarah Lawrence-Lighffoot and J. H. Davis (1997). In this collaborative methodology, dialogue between the portraitist and the subject encourages each speaker to shape the evolving image. Michie does not use the narrators' words from their in-depth interviews, but rather re-tells their stories. Possibly his book should not be classified as oral history; still, oral historians will identify strongly with his approach to story as research. Oral historians know, as Michie confirms, that we are in need of contextually rich and systematically detailed narratives by the individuals who are living particular experiences. He also shows us that the process of investigating how teachers "work for change" can be at least as interesting as the actual changes.
Indiana U.-Purdue U., Fort Wayne
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|Publication:||The Oral History Review|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2007|
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