Indiana Reading Journal Volume 44 Issue 1 - Page 18

This was evident in the “whale story” refrain with Jane when she added to the curriculum in ways she knew engaged children. Instead of finding experienced teachers, like Jane feeling confident about making curricular decisions in their daily teaching, I found Jane made her curricular decisions predetermined for her through student data and administrative decisions. In particular, her daily reading groups’ content was determined by outside assessments. Using student data to guide instruction is laudable, but in Jane’s teaching life the frequency of assessments given, and the emphasis put on them, both narrowed the curriculum and stripped Jane of her autonomy. Sadly, it did not allow her to use her 26 years of teaching experience to guide her instruction.

Additionally, Jane exhibited demoralization related to the decreased motivation and fear of job loss of the teachers in Finnagan and Gross’ 2007 study. A key theoretical implication from Finnagan and Goss’ study confirmed by my study was: “Although motives did not appear to change, they become overshadowed by decreased expectancies and associated demoralization. The result is that motivation decreases rather than increases for teachers in those school that struggle the most” (p. 624). Jane yearned to return to the days when she did not feel demoralized by fear of the new teacher evaluation system and so wanted to “teach the whole child” again. An even more powerful example was the multiple times Jane told me of her fear she would lose her job and not be able to pay for her own children’s education.

Teachers Need to Embrace Professional Courage

In the final steps of analysis when I explored whether Jane was accepting, smoothing over, or rewriting the stories of her school I noticed that when she was not taking action of some sort she was not as satisfied professionally. Jane was especially despondent when she talked about the excessive assessments she was required to give her students.

In a recent graduate class consisting of practicing teachers, during group discussions, one teacher said that what we need is “professional courage” to do what we think is right in our classrooms. This phrase resonated not only with me but also with the other practicing teachers in the course. It became a phrase we repeated often, and the students encouraged each other with this phrase in our last meeting together as they considered the roles and challenges they would face when returning to their school buildings.

Through listening to Jane, as well as practicing teachers I am currently working with, I have found that courage is needed for teachers to enact quite simple alternative pedagogies, ones I would refer to as “old fashioned teaching.” As Meyer and Whitmore (2011) passionately wrote about reclaiming teaching,

Teachers can no longer anxiously but passively listen to professional developers. We need to stand up, with gathered voices, and be proactive for the learners with whom we work, because they typically cannot participate in such sessions. (pp. 6-7).

Teachers need professional courage for these efforts. They also need to muster courage for small things in their classrooms, such as promoting inquiry learning as in the example of the whale story, finding time to read aloud to students, and bringing in books that are selected based on student interests.

Final Thoughts

Identifying Jane’s representative teaching metaphors and examining what actions she took in her teaching life provided me with a window through which to gaze more closely at her teaching life. Looking through Jane’s window, I saw a Warrior of Small Battles, which illuminated for me the pressure teachers are battling in their daily lives. This reminds me of the simple truth, which in current circumstances is easier said than done: we have to focus on the students before we worry about anything else. I hope Jane’s stories are a reminder of this for teachers in all stages of their teaching journey.