Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Teacher Narratives: Telling Our Stories
by Sarah Soebbing

As the focus for our continuing meetings, teacher consultants from the 2007 Summer Institute are currently investigating the genre of teacher narratives. Similarly to memoirs, teacher narratives involve stories and anecdotes from our experiences as teachers, writers, and people in general. We’ve discovered many possible approaches to writing our own narratives, such as the focus of “life informs teaching,” or “problem/solution” teaching scenarios, or “my development as a teacher over a period of time.” The genre seems to be increasingly popular, in part because it is story-like; we can learn from other teachers’ stories as they model their successes and failures, showing us through dialogue and detailed description. Readers are hopefully inspired, informed, and engaged from these reflective, and often humbling, teacher accounts, for the narrative qualities keep our attention while we receive expert information from an expert source – a teacher.

The author of a teacher narrative gains much in the act of writing, for we get to tell our stories, validate our experience, and likely benefit from the therapeutic process. There is plenty of creativity involved in recalling past scenes and dialogue, combining invention with actual events. Teachers will likely feel, through this act of reflecting and recreating, an even better sense of the importance of the experience we are recalling. Teacher narratives can easily incorporate other sources, be highly academic and informative, and combine more formal attributes, depending on your purpose. The possibilities are broad. Some of us have focused on a particular student, a particular class, lesson, curriculum, etc.

Commonly, the genre involves reflecting on something that wasn’t working in our teaching, allowing us to show how we were able to improve a situation. It’s easier to learn from someone else’s mistakes when you really experience how they made those mistakes from first-hand, narrative accounts. The genre is somewhat of an invitation, as if the author is saying “Join me. Learn along with me as I write, for the writing itself is part of the discovery.”

If you are interested in learning more about teacher narratives, this summer The Writing Project is offering the Advanced Institute - Living the Narrative Life. The course is titled Eng 592, and will meet from July 21-29, 2008. For more information visit the Eastern Michigan Writing Project website or contact Bill Tucker at