Indiana Reading Journal Volume 44 Issue 1 - Page 12

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These stresses resulted in teachers being physically exhausted, less enthusiastic about teaching, overwhelmed by expectations and doubts about their abilities to make a difference in students’ lives, less able to keep their personal relationships strong, and worried about job security (p. 303). My personal interactions and research with teachers validate these findings. This article allows the reader to gain an insider’s perspective of what it is like to be an experienced elementary teacher in today’s educational climate. Part of a larger study designed to explore the teaching lives of three experienced teachers in the state of Indiana, this work focuses on one of those teachers, Jane (pseudonym), as she faces challenges in a high needs elementary school with a high number of ELL students and over 95% of the school on free and reduced lunch. Specifically, this article, reveals Jane’s teaching metaphors in relation to her curricular decisions. In this article, I assert for Jane, and other teachers like her, it is only when this teacher was taking action of some sort (either rewriting her school story or being persistent in an action) that she was satisfied professionally. Findings include how Jane’s collective stories can inform and inspire practicing teachers to enact professional courage.

I join Nieto (2003), and researchers like her as I strive to frame my work as an alternative to “fixing teachers” or finding solutions to the problem of underprepared teachers and failing students but instead, focus on “building on teacher strengths and advancing an alternative vision of what is worth cherishing in public school education” (p. 8).

I sought to answer the following questions.

1. How did Jane view her teaching life and how was her teaching life impacted by the context within which she found herself?

2. What can we learn from her stories?

Theoretical Frame and Review of the Literature

The core tenet guiding this research was the life history approach, which allowed me to examine how the teacher in this study talked about and storied her experiences and perceptions of the social contexts she inhabited (Goodson and Sikes, 2001). In order to better understand the stories this veteran teacher told, I relied heavily on the narrative work of Clandinin and Connely (1998) and was also particularly influenced by the emphasis Vinz (1996) placed on teacher’s stories as a “deliberately personalized portrait of what it means to teach” (p.xii) and Lawrence-Lightfoot and Davis’ (1997) descriptive cameos used to describe each person as “potent stories of commitment and creativity, of deliberate and imaginative ways they have constructed their work and their lives” (p.11). The life-history work of these scholars guided me to construct representative refrains (much like vignettes) of Jane’s teaching stories as “portraits” of her teaching life to share with others.

The life history approach allowed me to view the resilience of teaching lives from the inside, understand the uniqueness of teaching trajectories, and find educative ways to use and respect these teachers’ stories. When I searched for teacher life history studies, I found more from other countries than from the United States. James Muchmore concurred, “There is not as much life history research being done with teachers in the United States, compared to other countries. In fact, I would say that with the current nation-wide push toward identifying and firing ‘bad’ teachers, U.S. policy-makers probably have less interest now in the lives of teachers than in the past” (personal communication, August 27, 2012). There are very few studies in the U.S. that take the time to carefully examine, from the experienced teacher’s point of view, what it is like to teach in a time heavily influenced by outside mandates. Better understanding the life histories of experienced teachers has provided me with insights, which not only inform my teaching, but can also be insightful for fellow teacher educators, administrators, and practicing teachers.

Standards Based Reform

As I began to learn about the teachers in the study, it became evident that their lives were deeply affected by standards-based reform (SBR), which was another area of literature I studied in order to better understand the lives of my participants. Many studies in this area indicated a lack of teacher autonomy in curricular decision-making (Dooley and Assaf, 2009; Smith and Kovacs, 2010; Valli and Buese, 2007) and an increased level of stress in teachers (Finnigan and Gross, 2007; Smith and Kovacs, 2010; Valli and Buese, 2007).