Narrative Analysis of ‘Hidden Stories’: A Potential Tool for Teacher Training

May. 01, 2012

Source: Teacher Development, Vol. 16, No. 2, May 2012, 199–215.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This research set out to examine the contribution of narrative analysis of a hidden story to the potential reassessment of the narrator’s self and identity.
The phenomenon of ‘hidden stories’ is presented here through an exemplary story told by a woman teacher, who revealed it for the first time in a seminar work, employing narrative analysis to examine its long-term effect on her.

The work is analysed in relation to five questions, derived from the teacher’s own narrative analysis, employing a methodology termed ‘analysis of an analysis’.
The questions that the teacher asked in relation to her hidden story were those with which she had chosen to struggle, and to understand through them her identity at different stages of her life.

These five questions were as follows:
(a) Why was this particular hidden story chosen?
(b) What is the meaning of the title given by the author to the story?
(c) How does the author relate to the hidden story over time: past and present?
(d) What emotional dialogue does the narrator conduct with the experiential story in her narrative analysis?
(e) Does a turning point occur in the attitude of the narrator to her hidden story; and, if so, of what kind?

The participant is the narrator of the exemplary story.
She is a Muslim-Arab teacher working in the Arab school system in Israel, with seven years’ teaching experience.
Her tension and restraint were prominent in the class.
She was attentive and focused on the narratives of the other participants but took little active part.

Discussion and conclusions

The findings reveal how narrative analysis facilitated the teacher's in-depth understanding of her identity at different life stages, thereby enabling her to reconstruct it anew.

Emotional reality
The event that this teacher experienced illustrates the emotional reality enforced upon her when she was a child.
The emotional reality that had taken control of her psyche for so long undermined her self-esteem and weakened her sense of self-efficacy.
Her psyche reacted to later experiences as if they too had occurred in the past.

The story of the autobiographical event and its analysis helped the teacher not only to free herself from the difficult event that she had undergone as a young pupil, and had hidden for such a long time, but also to confront it face to face and conduct a deep internal dialogue with it.
This teacher, the child, had imprisoned the painful memory of a single story within herself, a story that generated strong, paralyzing feelings, such as fear, shame and powerlessness.
She now dared to criticise the Hebrew teacher and decisively determine that it was his behaviour, which until now had so severely frustrated and thwarted her, that had been wrong.
The internal dialogue that she conducted with her hidden story revealed deep layers of the narrator’s identity and enabled her to reconstruct it.
Along the axis of time, her self-identity was not only rehabilitated, but was even empowered.

The participant’s analysis points to her new ability to act, an ability that had been restricted in the past due to her cultural circumstances and the influence of power relations.
Now, during the process of narrative analysis, she sensed that she was no longer limited and expressed her attitude and her insights regarding the event.
These feelings played a role not only in her perception of the event but also of the reality in which she continued to live.

The narrative analysis enabled her to observe the patriarchal culture from which she originated from a new perspective; and, for the first time, to use this perspective to express her stance as a mature woman, undertaking a hegemonic liberating discourse (Munro 1998) even against those who were perceived by her as the agents of power.

Conclusions in regard to teacher training
In regard to teachers, painful school memories offer an important source for the study of identity construction.
Both novice and experienced teachers carry with them various early childhood memories from their school days.
These memories may reflect unresolved conflicts, hesitant and restrained behavioural patterns, profound and repressed pain.

The author argues that investigating a personal history requires the creation of a protective space that will afford the young students confidence and security, in not merely introducing their stories, but also in discussing them and their accompanying context.
The teacher's intimate narrative investigation served as a basis for the research methodology applied in the present work, and thereby strengthened Nili herself as a co-researcher.
Her work emphasises the need for discussion of the nature of the relationships established between teachers and students, and of the nature of the space required to contain and nurture these students in teacher training.

The author suggests that intimate narrative research may enable teachers to understand the complexity both of their own individual reactions and of the reactions of others.
From the viewpoint of teacher education, autobiographical writing constitutes a vital reality for study and research.
It may be conducive to promoting processes of identity formation, in serving as a means by which the emotional salience undergoes changes according to the different stages of an individual’s experience.

The application of this intimate narrative writing in teacher education is in line with the post-structuralist approach that recognizes the subject as an active but subjugated agent, with a particular but not necessarily coherent identity that is also subject to change.

Updated: Jun. 09, 2014