The Researcher Self… Right Here, Right Now

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(Bautista, Personal Photograph Daegu, South Korea, 2013)

FYI-I am considering (and being considered for) a teaching position abroad again.  Nothing long term as I like where I am but just a few months to collect new energies from the journey, from a new culture, from different experiences…. The power of mid-air is transformative I always say….As a way to steady my research self, I am going to offer up an excerpt from a recent paper I have working on just in terms of my current thoughts about Narrative Inquiry relative to English Language teacher identity.  

As I told my students this week, after you compose a written understanding of a conceptualization and you feel it is truly comprehensible then you must release it and see if it is…

I was first introduced to narrative inquiry, “the study of how humans make meaning of experience by endlessly telling and retelling stories about themselves that both refigure the past and create purpose in the future” (Connelly & Clandinin, 1988, p. 24), as a graduate student circa 1999 in a class with Dr. F.M. Connelly.  I learned that through a narrative lens one examines personal and social history for narrative origins and embodied meaning (Connelly & Clandinin, 1988).   Johnson and Golombek (2002) argue that narrative research specific to language education seeks “to bring teachers’ ways of knowing into our professional conversations so as to transform our understanding of language teachers and language teaching.  By making teachers’ ways of knowing public, open to review by others, and accessible to others in the profession, we hope to validate language teachers and the activity of language teaching in ways afforded to other forms of scholarly work” (p.10).  I understand then that narrative research creates a space for negotiating and dialoguing experiences rather than searching out conclusive answers to certain queries and yet, choosing which experiences to explore and share becomes the most pivotal and sometimes most elusive puzzle piece within a narrative inquiry.

For me, integral to my research about teacher identity is Dewey’s (1938) notion of experience as neither isolated nor static moments in time but rather as reflections of one’s past and intimations of how they affect one’s future.  Deweyian notions of continuity and contextualization also emphasize experience as an individual’s interaction with his or her environment.  In addition, my negotiation of participant experiences “draw[s] together disconnected experiences including actions or events and provide[s] meanings to them” (Miyahara, 2010, p.6).  Since teacher’s experiences are shaped over time, through contexts and in no set order then likewise, so is one’s teacher identity.  Teacher identity is not fixed; it changes because classrooms, students and society continue to change.   And so, my participants’ experiences reflect a juncture within their teacher identity timeline.  Both they and I reflect on experiences within their identity as they live them; it is a form of knowing in action (Schön, 1983).

In a narrative inquiry, a sense of professional development also transpires because it is “a means through which teachers actualize their ways of knowing and growing that nourish and sustain their professional development in their careers” (Johnson & Golombek, 2002, p.6).  By sharing experiences and recounting certain stories, teachers question certain practices employed in their contexts and in doing so, they open up a space “to reconcile what is known with that which is hidden, to confirm and affirm, and to construct and reconstruct understandings of themselves as teachers and of their own teaching” (p.6).  Though my participants and I negotiate aspects of their teacher identity, I, too, become part of the inquiry because my perceptions of English language teacher identity initiate the narrative process.   Then exchanging my ideas with my participants illuminates how I may have understood or misconstrued aspects of their teacher identity.  And as we negotiate my perceptions, I support Milner’s (2007) statement that “individuals engage in deep levels of introspection to come to terms with both conscious and unconscious phenomena and experiences.  The reflective process can shed light on situations that can help teacher educators reconceptualize their work” (p.585).   Hence, in choosing narrative inquiry as my research methodology, I also hope to achieve a deeper knowledge of English Language teacher identity to inform my current and future classroom practice with English teachers.

References

Connelly, F.M. & Clandinin, D. J.  (1988).  Teachers as curriculum planners: Narratives of experience. New York: Teachers College Press & Toronto: OISE Press.

Dewey, J. (1938).  Experience and education.  New York: Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster.

Johnson, K.E. & Golombek, P.R. (2002).  Teachers’ Narrative Inquiry as Professional Development.  Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Milner IV, H.R. (2007).  Race, Narrative Inquiry and Self-Study in Curriculum and Teacher Education.  Education and Urban Society, August v.39(4), 584-609.

Miyahara, Masuko. (2010).  Researching Identity and Language Learning: Taking a Narrative Approach. Language Research Bulletin, (25), 1-15.

Schön, D.A. (1983).  The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action. New York: Basic Books.

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