PART I: TEACHER EDUCATOR
PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT IN
CONTEXTS: A LIFELONG PROCESS
THE ACCIDENTAL TEACHER EDUCATOR: LEARNING TO BE A LANGUAGE TEACHER EDUCATOR WITHIN DIVERSE POPULATIONS
After spending three years as a secondary science teacher in an affluent Toronto neighborhood, I was surprisingly hired as a Literacy Teacher in my old school district just north of the city. I did not have a regular classroom; instead I was expected to work with as many teachers as I could within a cluster of elementary and secondary schools to, broadly speaking, pay explicit attention to the role of language in learning within the content areas. The purpose of this chapter is to analyze and interpret this part of my educational career by engaging in self-study via personal history; a personal history refers to becoming an accidental teacher educator, by virtue of a unique role as an in-service teacher educator with a language and literacy portfolio. Journals kept over two years reveal that, in many ways, I was a teacher educator before I knew what the term meant and that developing a pedagogy of teacher education with a focus on literacy made me increasingly frustrated with the over-simplified ways in which my school district framed issues of diversity.
Keywords: Literacy teacher; language teacher; self-study; language teacher education; personal history self-study
Since beginning my career as an educator formally in 2000, I have primarily self-identified as a physicist who happens to be teaching and researching within the discipline of education. When speaking with physicist colleagues informally and at science or history of science conferences, I tend to argue that physics pedagogy is a branch of both theoretical and applied physics. To educationists, I state that physics just so happens to be the curricular vehicle through which I explore the history, philosophy, and practice of education. Both sets of statements are true, and both are somewhat limited. Upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that I am a physicist who went on to receive an education in both the social sciences (education) and the humanities (history and philosophy of science) at the graduate level. Notably, absent from this narrative is the professional education I received by virtue of participating in a two-year pilot program nearly 15 years ago when I was a K-12 teacher working on my first master’s degree, which was in education. I became, accidentally, a language teacher educator before I even understood what a teacher educator was supposed to do, in an environment that favored a district-wide initiative in literacy to address the needs of its diverse populations. In this chapter, I will analyze the ways in which these early formative experiences enacting a pedagogy of language and literacy education contributed to my overall pedagogy of teacher education that resonates to this day in my role as an associate professor of science and technology education.
I am well aware of the ways in which my identity tends to be constructed, almost automatically, by many academics and nonacademics alike – it might seem strange for a physicist to contribute to a book such as this one. It is often assumed that I favor statistical methods to answer questions about education, that I am stalwart in my commitment to modernism, that I am utopian in enthusiasm about education and technology, particularly about the recent moves toward “Big Data,” and that I have little background in considering humanistic concerns in education. As a physicist, after all, I must be aligned with the caricature of the (note the singular) scientific method espoused in textbooks and in media. That I favor a cluster of methodologies grouped as “qualitative” in my approach to education, that I argue physics did away with modernism a century ago, and that I approach my work in education and technology with a historical (and thus skeptical) lens would be a surprise to many. That I attribute a great deal of my thinking about pedagogy to the two years I spent as a language and literacy teacher might be downright shocking – both to colleagues in science and in language and literacy cognates in education.
Although I have long kept a general eye on the field of language and literacy education since beginning graduate studies, a few recent events have encouraged me to begin to examine rigorously the role that early experiences as a literacy teacher have had on my pedagogy of teacher education. Specifically, my work with a professor of language and literacy education as a critical friend (Schuck & Russell, 2005
) to help consider the ways in which digital technologies might be meaningfully utilized within an elementary literacy methods course encouraged me to consider more recent academic literature in the field (Kosnik, Menna, & Bullock, 2012
). An invitation to assume this role at a small conference of literacy and teacher education scholars from around the world provided a further recent introduction into relevant scholarship and afforded an opportunity to have wide-ranging discussions with experts in the field (Bullock, 2016
). Finally, a recent critical friendship with Megan Madigan Peercy has encouraged me to think about the ways in which my prior identity as a literacy teacher informed both my nascent pedagogy of teacher education and my existing pedagogy of education using perspectives of sociocritical literacy theory, the Third Space, and the idea of core practices in literacy education (Gutiérrez, Baquedano‐López, & Tejeda, 1999; Gutiérrez, 2008; Peercy, 2014
; Peercy & Troyan, 2017
The purpose of this chapter is to understand the underlying hybridity of my pedagogy of teacher education by recognizing and interpreting its formation in the crucible of my experiences as a literacy teacher, experiences that I briefly mentioned in Bullock (2007)
but never approached with a theoretical lens. In so doing, I use Samaras, Hicks, and Berger’s (2004)
approach to self-study via personal history. First, I provide a context for understanding my transition from physics teacher to literacy teacher in my final two years of work as a K-12 teacher. Then, I outline the methodological underpinnings of self-study that guide this chapter and the specific methods that I use to understand my self-in-relation to past practice as a literacy teacher and as a current teacher educator. I present data representing six episodes in my thinking about who I am and how I wish to teach. Finally, I will offer comments about the ways in which my self-study has led to new understandings of how I learned to be a language and literacy teacher working with diverse populations, new understandings of the role of personal history self-study, and the ways in which these ideas might shed light on why it took me so long to explore the influences of these experiences on my pedagogy of teacher education. In many ways, the difficulty of using the term “language and literacy teacher” to describe my work during this time helps to underscore the complexities of the demands that were placed on me, and that I placed on myself. The school district settled on using the term “literacy teacher,” because funding for the roles were linked to the provincial focus on literacy across the curriculum and a high-stakes, newly implemented literacy test in Grade 10. I preferred the term “language teacher,” although I have long believed that all teachers are language teachers, not just those who teach English or other modern languages within the Canadian school system. The chapter highlights issues of both hybridity in practice and hybridity in identity – both of which turn out to be crucial, if heretofore tacit, components of my pedagogy of teacher education.
FROM PHYSICS TEACHER TO LANGUAGE AND LITERACY TEACHER
I did not seek out a role as a language and literacy teacher; I was quite happy to teach physics in both the K-12 system full time and community college system part time in my early years after completing undergraduate degrees in physics and in education. Immediately following graduation, I obtained a job that was, by most standards, a “dream” position for a new physics teacher – a timetable that included almost entirely senior physics courses, with a few Grade 9 science courses here and there. I felt good about my contributions to my school and I was active in supporting a variety of extracurricular activities, including but not limited to school musicals and a newly formed film club. I was most proud of the expansion of enrollment in physics during my short time at the school, mostly because students who did not see themselves on a pathway to a degree in science or engineering felt that they could learn valuable things in my courses. In particular, I recall one student who aspired to be a writer enrolling my senior physics classes because he wished to have a “better grasp” on modern sciences such as quantum physics and relativity theory for his future writing career.
The school where I began my K-12 teaching career was complex. Situated in an old neighborhood in central Toronto, it had both a robust fine and performing arts program with decades of community support and a French immersion program that allowed students to complete most coursework in English or French up until Grade 11. The neighborhood immediately surrounding the school is well known as one of the most affluent areas in Toronto. The student population was predominantly of European ancestry, many students came from the local area while, like most Toronto schools, a significant group elected to come to the school from other areas via public transit. A sizeable minority of students were first-generation Canadians born to parents who came from Eastern European countries. A significant percentage of students had parents, grandparents, and extended family who had all attended the school. The school had an excellent reputation within Canada’s largest school district for excellence in both traditional “academics” and the performing arts; well over 90% of students went on to attend prestigious Canadian and American universities. A cursory assessment of the school could highlight a lack of racial diversity, somewhat odd for a school in Toronto, which certainly raises questions about the structures interacting to produce that result. Intersectionality theory (e.g., Crenshaw, 1989
) reminds us that single categories are insufficient for understanding the relational nature of human experiences and that a multifaceted, polyvocal assessment of the structures of privilege and oppression is always warranted. An intersectional analysis of the school cultures would, for example, reveal relational dynamics of classism, heteronormativity, the experiences of newcomers to Canada, English language learners (ELLs), and the sexism in lived experiences of students and staff in this school and thus reflect competing narratives of diversity. In an intersectional analysis, it is certainly warranted to look at the interactions between social locations and processes to understand why
there might have been a lack of racial diversity and, at least in my time at the school, no school-wide attention to the consequences of colonialism and the occupation of land of Canada’s indigenous peoples.
I moved on from that school after only three years. My move was catalyzed by ongoing reorganizations of the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), which had been created out of merging five smaller districts, just prior to me joining the school. This reorganization, combined with the way in which a new principal interpreted seniority regulations, resulted in my being declared “surplus” to that school toward the end of my third year and put on a transfer list – despite being the only person certified to teach physics. I decided to seek out employment in the York Region District School Board (YRDSB), which connects to TDSB along its northern border and is the district in which I attended elementary and secondary school. YRDSB was, and continues to be, somewhat of a microcosm of Toronto in many ways. The district is composed of several small cities and large towns, immediately north of Toronto, and is populated by persons of mostly European ancestry who have lived for generations in the area, Toronto ex-patriots seeking a home in the suburbs for either family reasons or to escape the high cost of the Toronto real estate market, and many newcomers to Canada, particularly from Hong Kong and India. The southern end of the district, closest to Toronto, has a particularly diverse range of languages and cultures represented in schools.
In an extraordinary turn of events, YRDSB happened to be starting a pilot program they referred to as “Learning Plus.” The idea was to create a group of 10 secondary school teachers in the district who would assume a leadership role around issues of language and literacy education. In part, although not stated explicitly, these roles were to address broad concepts underpinning provincial and district “student success” mandates. The province of Ontario had recently implemented a mandatory, standardized, literacy test for Grade 10 that required students to respond to a number of reading comprehension tasks and to write short pieces in a variety of genres (i.e., nonfictional and fictional). The southern part of the school district, which was more culturally and linguistically diverse, tended to have a greater percentage of students for whom English was an additional language (EAL) and thus tended to experience more stress around this new requirement. In the northern part of the school district, which was less culturally and linguistically diverse, there were also strong concerns about the abilities of many students to be successful on the literacy test. In this case, though, students in the lower-socioeconomic status (SES) northern regions of the school district were framed as being less likely to have access to home libraries and parents who completed postsecondary school. Such multiple framings within the district, often with competing discourses from teachers, administrators, students, and parents had a lot to do with the reason the entire district received financial support for this program from the highest levels.
The so-called learning plus/literacy teachers were “seconded” from the classroom, meaning literacy teachers did not have a regular classroom or classes of their own but were expected to work with one large secondary school and its associated “family” of 5–8 elementary schools. The roles were to be informed by the ideas of a group of academics and educational consultants who were enthusiastically supported by district superintendents and the director. Of particular import were ideas about change by Michael Fullan (2001, 2003)
, a particular approach to pedagogy referred to as “instructional intelligence” (Bennett & Rolheiser, 2001
), and work from Crévola on issues of the development of oral language (e.g., Fullan, Hill, & Crévola, 2006
). Identified leaders from within and outside the district would often present a series of PowerPoint-driven lectures in professional development sessions that literacy teachers were required to attend, alongside administrative representatives and other “team members” from each school. YRDSB’s approach was to situate expert knowledge of literacy teaching as the provenience of experts hired by the district to communicate the latest in theory to a small group of literacy teachers, who would then be asked to take these ideas up in their family of schools. I was hired in July 2003 for one of these roles; to my knowledge I was both the only science teacher and the only “new hire” within the district to take on this position...