Parables, Storytelling, and Teacher Education

From Section:
Trends in Teacher Education
Feb. 28, 2010

Source: Journal of Teacher Education, 61(1-2), p. 153–160. (January/February 2010).
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

Arguing that teacher education has become rule bound, even in the use of teaching narratives and cases, and for the need to challenge beginning teachers’ conceptions of teaching and learning, the author suggests parables as means for enlivening teacher education and for stretching understanding.

The author starts by offering a definition of parables.

On Parables

The Greek origins of the word parable are found in parabole, to compare.
As a form of indirect communication, parables do not flow to an expected conclusion but instead reveal contrary or unexpected aspects of a dilemma that invite comparison and complicate and deepen experience.
Then, the author presents an analysis of three examples.

Three Parables

To illustrate the educative power of parables, this section presents three examples: the first from Kierkegaard, The Storm; the second from Jesus of Nazareth, The Sower; and the third, The Fish and the Turtle, a Buddhist parable.
Each of the three parables presents a wide range of interpretive possibilities for thinking afresh about teaching and learning and learning to teach, even though not one mentions a teacher. That connections can be made so easily between the parables and teaching and learning is not surprising. Between the moments of birth and death, the human experience is essentially about teaching and learning—of how generations interact across time and of how earnestly the old, out of both fear and professed love, seek to protect and then shape the young into their own image; of how each person in his or her dependency ultimately is condemned to make sense of life even when unaware of or in denial of having inherited the product of centuries of meaning making—usually experienced as water to a fish.

Finally, the author considers a few reasons why parables have potential for enhancing teacher education, including as a means for exploring moral commitments and beliefs and for generating theories about teaching and learning.

Reimagining Teaching: Parables and Self-Understanding

If change begins in the imagination, the essential value of the exploration of parables in teacher education is their capacity to stretch and enliven ways of thinking even as they reveal rigidities. Comparison is the key.

Because teaching is first and foremost a moral relationship, the comparisons made point toward teacher duties and responsibilities as much as they do toward opportunities to promote learning. Moreover, the study of parables does something more than reveal prejudice and suggest alternate ways of thinking.

Updated: Nov. 24, 2019
Beginning teachers | Critical thinking | Narrative inquiry | Role of education | Storytelling | Teacher education curriculum