Novices ‘In Story’: What First-year Teachers’ Narratives Reveal about the Shady Corners of Teaching

Aug. 01, 2011

Source: Teachers and Teaching: theory and practice, Vol. 17, No. 4, August 2011, 435–450
(Reviewed by the Portal team)

In this article, the authors present the findings of a study conducted in the context of a national ‘contest of novices’ story writing’ in Israel (2004–2005).

In a national contest of story writing in Israel, first-year teachers from all educational sectors were invited to write a story that mirrors their first year of teaching experience.
This study focused on the 10 selected and published stories.
The study inquired into first-year teachers’ self-images, struggles, and concerns in the Israeli educational context, as discerned from the 10 selected stories.

Novices in Story’ in the context of narrative telling
The authors situate the context of a national ‘contest of novices’ story writing’ within the larger framework of story and narrative.

Participants and method
The 10 first-year teachers whose stories were published graduated from teacher education programs in recognized universities and colleges in the country.
The writers of the stories are all in their internship year.
The narrated stories are situated in kindergarten, elementary, middle school, and high school contexts, all public schools in urban areas.

Uncovering shady corners of teaching

The 10 analyzed stories reflected narratives of complex social interactions in pedagogical settings, whether lower, middle, or high school.
The analysis of the stories uncovered content dimensions of what the authors refer to as ‘shady corners of teaching’, shedding light on the hostile and adverse sides of teaching, and surfacing novices’ sense of impotence in their capacity to act.

These corners revolve around three interrelated themes:
(1) realizing the limitation of teachers’ capacity;
(2) coping with the realization that vision is incompatible with reality; and
(3) struggling with the multiple voices that operate in the educational system.

The authors argue that the literary devices employed by the novices in their stories become powerful tools for conveying their struggles with the limitations, their incompatibilities and their struggles to attend to multiple voices in the educational system.

‘Novices in Story’: speaking one’s voice in the public educational arena
The national contest of novices’ story writing in Israel reflects the strong concern of Israeli policy makers for understanding what novices’ professional world ‘looks like’ and ‘feels like’ in the eyes and through the voice of novices themselves.
Moreover, they are prompt to encourage the public voicing of stories, some of which might convey controversial and often conflictive messages regarding the educational system constituted for us, teacher educators, and researchers, encouraging news.

The human side of teaching in novices’ stories: universal concerns

The stories also shed light on the ‘human side’ of teachers and teaching, reflecting the plots, heroes, and dramas that surround any teacher, regardless of the stage of professional expertise.
The stories depicted the unique complexity of acting, feeling, and thinking in the ‘here and now’ teaching act, while conveying, at the same time, a universal humanistic message about teachers and teaching that transcends novices and reflects the deepness and wisdom of practice of teachers who constantly find themselves coping with pressures, demands, high expectations and the diversity that characterizes educational systems.

Implications for teacher education

In general, the study has important implications for pre-service and in-service teacher educators working with student teachers and teachers in their first years of teaching.

Pre-service teacher educators can, for example, collect samples of student narratives over the course of their teacher education programs so as to ascertain whether and how metaphors change and evolve throughout training and, thereby, get a sense of what is working in their programs.
A similar conversation through narrative might continue in the first years of teaching so that pre-service teacher educators can determine how and where the influence of their programs is felt among new teachers.

Story writing as a pedagogical–methodological tool in teacher education
In particular, the authors suggest adopting categories from literary analysis and content categories of teachers’ professional lives, to encourage novice teachers to examine the meanings embedded in the lived experiences recounted in written stories.
In practice, participants can be encouraged to write their own stories, using some of the above literary and content categories to develop their ideas, to express their feelings, and to articulate controversies and dilemmas that they wish to convey in their stories.

Updated: Feb. 10, 2014