Date of Award

12-15-2014

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Department

Educational Studies

First Advisor

Diane Stephens

Abstract

Past studies show that narrative is an effective tool for guiding teachers to develop teacher identity, to recognize their practical knowledge, and to engage in teacher transformation, especially during initial teacher training and the early years of their career. Consequently, other researchers have identified how narrative studies inform what we know about teachers’ identities, their practical knowledge, and their transformations during initial training and early career teaching. However, we do not know how narrative functions in the experiences of teachers beyond initial teacher training and early career teaching. This study intends to fill this gap in the research. In this study, I explored the teaching lives of three veteran women English teachers—Debbie, Ceci, and Jineyda—who all received masters’ degrees in English from Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf School of English, and who all participated in the Bread Loaf Teacher’s Network (BLTN). Initially, I sought to understand the impact of BLTN. Using qualitative methods, including surveys, artifact analysis, and semi-structured interviews, I documented the participants’ early memories of writing and reading, their growth as writers, how they made their social and intellectual connections at Bread Loaf, how these connections affected them, and how they continued to sustain them. I composed narrative portraits of each of the women and then looked for patterns across them, using aspects of Goodson’s (2013) narrative portrayal method and applying critical feminist perspectives to the data. The teachers’ temporally kaleidoscopic life stories, situated in the professional context of their experiences with Bread Loaf and BLTN, revealed the framework for a new grounded theory. The new theory—the theory of safe passage—is a triadic theory, referring to three distinct parts, which include (a) the early support from mentors or teachers, who allowed my participants to read and to write in school or in the library; (b) then later, the professional support from BLTN, Bread Loaf faculty, and Bread Loaf peers, as my participants claimed public identities as women writers who teach; and finally, (c) my participants engaged in the creation of safe passage for their own students. These findings have implications for teacher evaluation and retention. For example, teachers’ narratives include first hand experiential reports of how teachers claim expertise and of how teachers articulate their needs. Combined, teachers’ narratives that illustrate the above characteristics build the rich data sources needed to evaluate teacher, student, and school performance and achievement. Additionally, teachers’ narratives reflect the health of the profession and, subsequently, can offer insight into whether teachers feel supported and valued enough as professionals to remain in the field long-term. Consequently, the findings of this study suggest there is much more to be understood from how narrative functions in teacher professional education programming and especially how we value and legitimize the experiences of teachers beyond early career learning environments. This study also formalizes a call for wide-spread, ongoing mentorship in professional development programming for teachers. Ongoing mentorship, as illustrated in the narratives of my participants, significantly distinguished the type of professional associations teachers maintained with BLTN and Bread Loaf, from what I believe are traditional types of professional learning or professional development, such as one-a-day workshops, seminars, school improvement planning, and other types of instruction, which do not necessarily take into consideration an individual teacher’s strength, abilities, experience, and knowledge.

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