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Teachers' stories: reflections on teaching, caring and learning.

This special issue of Childhood Education celebrates educators' professional experiences and their insights into what it means to teach, to care and to promote lifelong learning. It is based on a frequently overlooked premise: that the best information about teaching comes from the teachers themselves, from their stories of practice (Jalongo, 1992; Schubert & Ayers, 1992). Through personal narratives and reflections on their professional lives, teachers can begin "to search their minds and actions for the heart of teaching" (Irwin, 1992, p. 406).

Educators' reflections on teaching should not be viewed as any less credible than the opinion of a stockbroker about investments, a family counselor about marital relationships or a pharmacist about prescription drugs. Without this public credibility, educators are being systematically deprived of their professional voice. Our spokespersons should not be people who believe they understand education simply because they were once students. Often those who speak for us call for simplistic solutions to the complex problems of our schools. Far too often, such uninformed spokespersons hold our professional decision-making hostage by insisting on a lock-step, test-driven curriculum.

Throughout the debate on American education, one aspect remains consistent: teachers' perspectives and experiences are trivialized. If the harsh, uninformed critics of education spoke freely, their disregard for teachers would sound something like this: "Teachers cannot be trusted. They are too self-serving to be objective. They delude themselves about their effectiveness. The numbers tell us all that we need to know--let them do the talking. Allow those who view children as a faceless crowd to make the important education decisions. You teachers are too preoccupied with the individual children in your classes to offer a useful perspective."

Yet, it is precisely the teacher's perspective that America needs to make meaningful, enduring improvements in education. The restructuring of American schools is, above all, a human enterprise (Jalongo, 1991), dependent upon a critical mass of individual teachers in individual classrooms caring deeply about children and making a commitment to learning. Teacher narratives are ways of expressing the values that undergird authentic teaching.

What Makes a Teacher Story Useful?

Teacher stories are much more than charming anecdotes. They relate experiences that evoke stories from others, encapsulate professional perspectives and promote insights into the meaning of teaching. A good and useful teacher narrative has at least four characteristics that contribute to education:

* A teacher narrative should be genuine. A real teacher story resonates within every educator. An authentic teacher story is not contrived to be cute, edited to flatter the teacher or sensationalized to overdramatize events. The story must "ring true" in order to strike a responsive chord.

* A teacher narrative should invite reflection and discourse. A good teacher story leaves us fairly bursting to respond--with comments about the story, insights into the underlying issues, stories of our own, even strenuous opposition. Authentic narratives stimulate dialogue and foster more reflective teaching practice.

* A good teacher story is recursive and reinterpreted. True narratives go beyond the "kids say the darndest things" mentality, looking beneath the surface, again and again, to discover the underlying meanings. The experience does not change, but the concepts and themes used to interpret the experience change as we amass other experiences, gain insight and become more thoughtful about what we do and why we choose specific courses of action.

* A teacher story is the antidote to a "technological mentality." Contemporary society puts its faith in methods, systems and new technologies. Teacher narratives urge us to look deeper, examining not merely how we deliver education, but also what we deliver. We must examine the issue of appropriate content and address the ethical concern of whose interests are served and promoted by our decisions.

* A good teacher narrative is powerful and evocative. Teacher stories give us a professional voice (Irwin, 1992), allow us to explore the principles underlying practices (Atwell, 1987), help us to communicate our beliefs to a wider audience (particularly parents) and build our self-confidence as we confront professional dilemmas. Stories record our experiences, provide us with insight into teacher-student relationships and contribute to our overall "wisdom of practice" (Shulman, 1992).

This special issue of Childhood Education is a deliberate mix of article formats, writing styles and professional perspectives. We begin at the beginning, with Laurie Stamp's reflections about the value of informal learning at home. Next, we move to Vianne McLean's studies of Australian preservice teachers' stories. In the following three short articles, Jeffrey Brewster, Paula Treiber and Pat Tarwater recall significant transitions in their personal and professional lives as classroom teachers. Such transitions are often precipitated by interactions with a particular child. This section is arranged chronologically by age of the children involved.

The capstone article for the theme is Richard Ambrose's description of the connections between teacher stories and professional development. Finally, Nancy Maldonado and Mariann Winick invite readers to delve deeper into the lives of fellow educators by providing an annotated bibliography of teacher biographies and autobiographies.

We hope that this special issue on teacher stories will inspire you to contribute your own voice to the ongoing dialogue about what it means to teach, to learn and, most important, to care.


Atwell, N. (1987). In the middle. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. Irwin, J. M. (1992). Finding our writing voices. The Reading Teacher, 45(6), 406-414. Jalongo, M. R. (1991). The role of the teacher in the 21st century: An insider's view. Bloomington, IN: National Educational Service. Jalongo, M. R. (1992). Teachers' stories: Our ways of knowing. Educational Leadership, 49(7), 68-73. Schubert, W. H., & Ayers, W. C. (1992). Teacher lore: Learning from our own experience. White Plains, NY: Longman. Shulman, L. (1992). On research on teaching: A conversation with Lee Shulman. Quoted in R. S. Brandt, Educational Leadership, 49(7), 14-19.
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Author:Isenberg, Joan P.
Publication:Childhood Education
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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