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AT THE INTERSECTION OF ART AND RESEARCH:
THE TEACHING OF POETRY/THE POETRY OF TEACHING
ANNE MCCRARY SULLIVAN
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA LIBRARIES
Anne McCrary Sullivan
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ABSTRACT. . . v
1 AT THE INTERSECTION OF ART AND RESEARCH 1
Prologue . . 1
Aesthetic Vision . 2
The Autobiographical Context . 4
A Review of the Theoretical Literature 8
Redefining Cognition . 8
Moving Beyond Positivism . 11
What Counts As Research? . 13
A Statement of the Problem . 15
Purpose, Methodology, and Mode of Representation 17
2 EVOCATIVE REPRESENTATIONS: THE FIRST EXEMPLAR 20
Prologue . . 20
The Context and the Problem . 20
Notes about Method . 22
Construction of the Script . 25
An Ethical Concern/The Issue of Voice and
Ownership . . 29
The Purpose of the Study . .. 30
Poetry and Passion in Teacher Education:
Personalizing and Internalizing Knowledge 32
In the Beginning . 32
The Practicum . . 41
Growing Deeper . 54
The NCTE Convention in Orlando 59
The Handbook . . 62
The End of the Semester . 67
Epilogue . . .. 70
Reflections on the Script . 70
Implications for Future Research 73
3 EVOCATIVE REPRESENTATIONS: THE SECOND EXEMPLAR 75
Prologue . . 75
Following Up . . 75
The Internship . 76
Methodology . . 77
Ethical Concerns . 78
The Purposes of the Study . 81
Construction of the Evocative Text 81
Saturated with Poetry: First Draft of a Teacher 83
Prologue . . 83
The Internship . 86
Post-Internship . 203
4 FINAL CONSIDERATIONS ... . 214
The Teaching of Poetry . 214
Poetry in Crisis/The Broader Context:
A Review of the Literature . 214
The Poetry of Teaching . 225
The Dynamic Form of Teaching . 225
Developing Teachers As Artists 227
The Art of Research . 229
Artist as Researcher/Researcher as Artist 229
Evocative Modes as Interpretation 231
Final Words: The Politics of Method 232
REFERENCES . . 235
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH . 242
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
AT THE INTERSECTION OF ART AND RESEARCH:
THE TEACHING OF POETRY/THE POETRY OF TEACHING
Anne McCrary Sullivan
Chair: Ben F. Nelms
Major Department: Instruction and Curriculum
The primary purpose of this dissertation is to explore
and exemplify, simultaneously, what can happen at the
intersections of art and research, art and teaching.
Maintaining that teaching is an art full of complexity and
nuance and that, for examining and understanding the
teaching act, we need processes that engage with complexity
and nuance, it underlines the potential of artistic vision
for transforming research about artistic teaching,
particularly in the secondary English classroom, and calls
for modes of representation that have the power to
communicate the richness of lived experience.
Within a theoretical and personal framework, this
dissertation presents two exemplars of studies conducted
with artistic vision and reported through evocative
representation. The first, "Poetry and Passion in Teacher
Education: Personalizing and Internalizing Knowledge,"
examines the experiences of twelve preservice teachers in a
fifth-year master's program in English education. It
follows their growth, examines the issues that became
central to their enterprise, and witnesses their building of
community. This research is reported in the form of a
reader's theater script constructed from participants'
journals and poems. The second study, "Saturated with
Poetry: First Draft of a Teacher," follows one of these
preservice teachers through his internship in a ninth-grade
English classroom, focusing on how his artistic concerns
manifested themselves in his emergent teaching style. The
nonchronological narrative report relies heavily upon poetic
technique and poetic strategy.
Methodologically, the two studies borrow from different
qualitative strategies; they may both, nevertheless, be said
to fall under the broad rubric of personal experience
methods. Personal experience methods, as defined by Jean D.
Clandenin and F. Michael Connelly, focus on the experiential
whole, which is both temporal and storied. They acknowledge
the centrality of the researchers' own experience and the
critical role of the relationship between the researcher and
participants. They rely upon field texts as data.
In educational research, how do we avoid the error of
excessive abstraction? How do we stay connected to the
human purposes of research? This study is concerned with
these questions and with possibilities for modes of
representation that help us retain the human dimension in
knowledge acquired about teaching through research.
AT THE INTERSECTION OF ART AND RESEARCH
This is not a conventional dissertation. It is a
dissertation that reflects its moment. More specifically,
it marks a moment in the evolution of the academy. We live
in a time when mysteries of the human brain, a few at a
time, are being unlocked. We know things now about the
nature of learning that we simply did not know, could not
know, at midcentury. Schools of education have been at the
forefront in applying to human concerns new knowledge about
thinking and learning. In recent years, preservice teachers
have been actively engaged with concepts of multiple
intelligence, with expanded understandings of what it means
to know and to demonstrate knowledge, and with resultant
revisions of what it means to assess knowledge.
Now, within their own institutions, colleges of
education are beginning to enact revised understandings of
what it means to know and expanded possibilities for
reporting research. This dissertation represents some of
those revised understandings and explores pedagogical issues
within the realm of those expanded possibilities.
One of the ways this dissertation differs from its
traditional precedents is in its embrace of multiplicity.
There are a number of things "going on" here. Within a
conceptual framework, which is both theoretical and
personal, there are embedded two studies, which focus on
pedagogy. Each of these is concerned with the delicate
interrelations of art, poetry, teaching, and teacher
education, to such an extent that they converge as stages of
a unified inquiry.
In this dissertation, the threads of multiple issues
are spun into a web of larger concern: artistic ways of
knowing and of representing knowledge. This is a central
concern for me. My own multiple identities--teacher, poet,
researcher--are bound together by aesthetic perception and
by a penchant to create form. The form of my teaching has
always been critical to its mission, and the form of this
dissertation is part of its content.
Aesthetic vision suggests a high level of consciousness
about what one sees. It suggests an alertness, a "wide-
awakeness" that Maxine Greene has urged educators and
researchers to learn from artists (1987b, 1987c, 1994).
Aesthetic vision engages a sensitivity to suggestion,
to pattern, to that which is beneath the surface as well as
to the surface itself. It requires a fine attention to
detail and form--the perception of relations (tensions and
harmonies), the perception of nuance (colors of meaning),
and the perception of change (shifts and subtle motions).
Aesthetic vision adjusts the flow of time. It may
seize a moment in order to stare at it and see more fully,
more deeply; but aesthetic vision does not assume that what
one sees in the moment is what one will always see. It
perceives the potential for transformation within any
apparent fixity, whether that fixity is a block of wood, a
piece of clay, a jumble of words, or the configuration of a
classroom, the behavior of an individual child.
Aesthetic vision is always from a specific point of
view, filtered by a specific consciousness. It is personal
and situational. It includes emotion, imagination, and
paradox. It embraces complexity.
Teachers who function with aesthetic vision perceive
the dynamic nature of what is unfolding in front of them.
They know how to "read" students, respond quickly, and
reshape the flow of events. They construct personal
frameworks for their own understandings. They do not accept
that what they see is immutable. They have a finely tuned
sense of how to move toward new configurations.
Researchers with aesthetic vision, too, perceive the
dynamics of a situation and know how to "read" it. They
look at details within their contexts, perceive relations
among the parts and between the parts and the whole. They
look for pattern within disorder and for unity beneath
superficial disruption. They construct forms and suggest
The teacher-as-artist is simultaneously a researcher.
The researcher-as-artist becomes, through forms created and
made public, a teacher. This dissertation explores the
potential of artistic vision for transforming both teaching
and research. Its particular emphasis is on the teaching of
English and on research in secondary English classrooms.
The Autobiographical Context
In 1992, when I entered my PhD program, I had just
spent several years nurturing a poet's way of seeing,
shaping, interpreting, understanding. My nontraditional MFA
program had turned out to be everything I had always wanted
from my education--a fine balance of autonomy and guidance;
a definition of rigor that went deeper than rules; an
honoring of both independence and community; a blurring of
semester divisions that allowed for a sense of ongoing
project; significant narrative evaluation. I graduated from
that program in Swannanoa, North Carolina, on a January
afternoon, light snow falling. I got in the car, drove all
night, began my PhD program two weeks late at the University
of Florida, and was in culture shock for a whole semester.
I moved uneasily in the linearity of traditional academic
structures. Having had an apprenticeship in sensing and
naming what I needed to know, I was uncomfortable with the
external authority now telling me what I needed to know.
Further complicating matters, in my work as a poet I had
learned to trust intuitive, nonlinear processes; I had
discovered altered relationships with time; I had embraced
an understanding of knowledge that included emotion and
imagination; I had learned to engage with multiplicity and
complexity. But when I tried to function in concert with
what I had learned, I was often told with varying sorts of
language, "You can't do that." I felt alien and divided, my
whole life a huge dichotomy--the poet and the academic. I
pursued my academic career in an ongoing tension.
I had some professors, however, who offered me choices
and autonomy, who were willing to let me reinvent tasks and
methods, and who gave me glimmers of hope that my creative
dimension might have some role to play in academic work. In
a course described as "Introduction to Qualitative
Research," my parallel worlds began to intersect.
During that semester, I came to know deeply the work of
John Dewey, Maxine Greene, and Elliot Eisner. In the
writings of these three (and others, but especially these) I
found permission to be who I was. I located myself at the
intersections of art and research, history and imagination,
the emotive and the logical, rebellion and order. I gained
language for what I had known intuitively about
relationships that bound teaching and writing at the level
of deep process. And I knew for the first time that I could
be a poet and a researcher in the same body doing the same
work in the world.
I was finally hearing in academia, voices that were
consistent with my internal voices, voices that validated my
ways of seeing and knowing. I found Maxine Greene writing
of wholeness, challenging dichotomous thinking, and
celebrating the role of literature as an integration of
cognition and emotion: "When we consider integration and
wholeness, [we must] break with such notions as those that
split the cognitive from the emotional" (1978a, 188).
I discovered Elliot Eisner defying traditional academic
definitions of rationality: "What we are seeing when we see
artists work--on the stage, in the studio, in the concert
hall, and in a classroom--is not the absence of rationality
and intelligence, but the ultimate manifestation of its
realization" (1979, 273).
I found affirmation in Dewey's assertion that
to think effectively in terms of relation of
qualities is as severe a demand upon thought as to
think in terms of symbols, verbal and
mathematical. [P]roduction of a work of
genuine art probably demands more intelligence
than does most of the so-called thinking that goes
on among those who pride themselves on being
"intellectuals." (1934, 46)
Donald Sch6n echoed Dewey: "Artistry is an exercise of
intelligence, a kind of knowing, though different in crucial
respects from our standard model of professional knowledge"
(1990, 13). And Laurence Stenhouse brought art and inquiry
clearly into the same arena: "All good art is inquiry and
experiment. The artist is the researcher par
excellence" (1988, 47). As I read, the dichotomies with
which I had struggled imploded in my consciousness and in my
"In my body." This is not a very traditionally
academic thing to say. All of these other dichotomies exist
in the shadow of one that has spirited all of Western
civilization: mind and body. The life of the academy as
keeper of knowledge has traditionally been the "life of the
mind." Body has had little or nothing to do with it.
When I first started spending time among serious poets,
I was struck by the ways they talked about poetry, how
different these were from the ways I had always heard
English teachers talk about poetry. English teachers asked,
"What does this poem mean?" and expected a specific answer.
Poets were asking, "What is your experience of this poem?";
they hoped for multiple answers. English teachers seemed
interested in getting knowledge into the brain. Poets were
concerned with getting knowledge into the body. They talked
about it in exactly those terms: "getting knowledge into
the body." They wanted to give their readers not only an
insight, but also a lived experience.
The implications of that concept for teaching were
immediately clear to me. Knowledge personalized and
internalized is knowledge that sticks. The word made flesh
is a powerful word. I see now that "knowledge in the body"
is also an important concept for research.
A Review of the Theoretical Literature
Novelist Jeanette Winterson, in her book of essays, Art
[Objects] (1996), maintains that artists know things ahead
of time. Sometimes, she says, artists know things before
scientists do because they have learned to read and trust
experience, feeling, and intuition. Leonard Schlain, author
of Art and Physics: Parallel Visions in Space, Time, and
Light (1991), agrees. In his extended study of the
histories of art and physics, he demonstrates convincingly
that major breakthroughs in the world of physics have
consistently been prefigured in the work of visual and
literary artists. There is now an increasing body of
empirical evidence suggesting that Winterson, Schlain, and
others who take this position are right.
In 1994, Antonio Damasio, head of the department of
neurology at the University of Iowa College of Medicine,
published his book, Descartes' Error: Ehotion, Cognition,
and the Human Brain. He reports in the vernacular on more
than a decade of his research on the neurological
underpinnings of reason. Introducing this work, Damasio
I had grown up accustomed to thinking that the
mechanisms of reason existed in a separate
province of the mind, where emotion should not be
allowed to intrude, and when I thought of the
brain behind that mind, I envisioned separate
neural systems for reason and emotion. This was a
widely held view of the relation between reason
and emotion, in mental and neural terms. (xi)
Damasio's research has led him, however, to propose, in his
that the body, as represented in the brain, may
constitute the indispensable frame of reference
for the neural processes that we experience as the
mind; that our very organism rather than some
absolute external reality is used as the ground
reference for the constructions we make of the
world around us ; that our most refined
thoughts and best actions, our greatest joys and
deepest sorrows, use the body as a yardstick.
The mind," Damasio tells us, "is embodied, in the full sense
of the term, not just embrained" (118).
What the empirical sciences are now confirming about
the human brain is forcing us to question old dichotomies
and to perceive new relations. It is no longer possible,
for example, to make the simplistic distinction between
cognition and affect. We now know that at the level of
neurobiology, cognition and feeling are interrelated and
interdependent. Renate Nummela Caine and Geoffrey Caine's
extensive review and analysis of brain research led them to
propose in Making Connections: Teaching and the Human Brain
(1991) twelve principles of brain-based learning. The fifth
principle directly addresses the thinking-feeling
connection: Emotions are critical to patterning.
Patterning relates to meaningful organization and
categorization of information. "In a way," state Caine and
Caine, "the brain is both artist and scientist, attempting
to discern and understand patterns as they occur and giving
expression to unique and creative patterns of its own"
(1991, 81). This fifth principle--emotions are critical to
patterning--restates the conclusion of a number of studies
(Halgren, Wilson, Squires, Engel, Walter, and Crandall 1983;
Lakoff 1987; McGuinness and Pribram 1980; Ornstein and Sobel
1987; Rosenfield 1988) that find emotion to be integrated
with the functions of cognition.
Caine and Caine urge us to "reject a definition of
'meaningfulness' that is restricted to some notion of
intellectual understanding devoid of an emotional connection
that is experienced as a 'felt' sense" (1991, 92). On the
basis of their research, they argue that felt meaning occurs
when emotions and cognition function together, generating a
sense of interconnectedness and personally significant
The thinking-feeling connection has always been
acknowledged by artists. The artist's way of knowing and
perceiving is characterized, in part, by this connectedness
and by a strong sense that cognition is located in the whole
body, not just in the brain. Poet Donald Hall writes,
"Poetry by its bodily, mental, and emotional complex
educates the sensibility, thinking and feeling appropriately
melded together" (1994, 11-12). This refusal of the mind-
body dichotomy explains, to some extent, the marginalization
of the artist during a positivist era.
Moving Beyond Positivism
During the course of this century, the field of
education has thrown itself headlong into the pursuit of a
science of education. Building on the positivistic base of
the scientific method, as developed within the natural
sciences, educational researchers and theorists have sought
to define education in objective terms. The goal has been
to make teaching and learning precise and efficient by
uncovering the underlying laws of these phenomena. This
goal has been pursued with strict focus on observable
events, objective methods of data gathering, and
quantification of results.
As we near the century's end, we are questioning the
application of this paradigm to the complexity of the
educational process (Caine and Caine 1991, Denzin and
Lincoln 1994, Eisner 1991, Greene 1995, Rose 1990, Sherman
and Webb 1991). Some thinkers, including James Giarelli,
are now announcing that within the social sciences, "the
positivistic experiment is over" (1990, 22). Qualitative
research is playing an increasingly significant role in the
quest for knowledge in the field of education. And Elliot
Eisner has taken a leading role in making the case that
"there is no area of human inquiry that epitomizes the
qualitative more than what artists do when they work"
(1979, 190). As we enter the twenty-first century,
qualitative researchers, philosophers, and artists will have
an increasingly strong voice about how we make our way in
educational research. We will not, however, ignore what we
have learned from the natural sciences outside the field of
education. Ongoing brain research is yielding extremely
valuable information about human memory systems (Goldman-
Rakic 1992; Nadel, Wilmer, and Kurz 1984; Rosenfield 1988),
information processing (Liston 1995, Sylwester 1995), the
relationship between physiology and psychology (Smilkstein
1993), the relationship between conscious and unconscious
perception (Crick and Koch 1992), and the role of emotion in
reasoning (Caine and Caine 1995, Keefe 1991). These
discoveries have immense implications for teaching and for
educational research (Caine and Caine 1995, Kruse 1994,
Lazear 1992, Sylwester 1995).
Against this background, we hear philosophers and
artists who urge us to look to the humanities for guidance.
Among philosophers, the voice of Maxine Greene is both
gentle and insistent. In the humanities, she tells us, we
find the human complexity that is lacking in the
positivist's view of the world. In the arts, we learn
paradox, ambiguity, and passion; through the arts, we learn
empathy and overcome historical prejudices. The arts, she
tells us, lead us to that which is most human in ourselves
and make it possible for us to live together in the "common
world" of a democratic society (Greene 1978a, 1988, 1995).
For Greene, the arts engage our imaginations and open the
doors of the possible. They permit us to imagine how things
might be other than they are. That sort of imagination is
essential for meaningful change.
In 1890 Emily Dickinson began a now famous poem like
this: "I dwell in possibility" (1960, 327). As we look
around us at the realities of schools today, we all,
whatever our philosophical stance, acknowledge the need for
change. There is a great need to "dwell in possibility," to
imagine how things might become other than they are. We
first must imagine change, before we can make it happen.
What Counts As Research?
In the 1994 edition of The Handbook of Qualitative
Research, Laurel Richardson discusses an emergent
In the wake of feminist and postmodernist
critiques of traditional qualitative writing
practices, qualitative work has been appearing in
new forms; genres are blurred, jumbled. (520)
She refers to these new forms as experimental
representations, and points to their one clear commonality:
"the violation of prescribed conventions; they transgress
the boundaries of social science writing genres" (1994,
I would point to another commonality: each of these
genres represents an intersection of art and research. That
intersection is perhaps most dramatic in the subgroup of
experimental genres that Richardson calls evocative
representations. These use literary devices "to re-create
lived experience and evoke emotional responses" (1994, 521).
This kind of representation, Richardson says, "touches us
where we live, in our bodies" (1994, 521). This kind of
representation is the central concern of this dissertation.
For a number of years now, Elliot Eisner at Stanford
University has been actively exploring--both in print (1979,
1991) and on the programs of professional conferences--the
potential role of evocative representation in social science
research. Eisner maintains,
There is no area of human inquiry that epitomizes
the qualitative more than what artists do when
they work. Thus, it seems to me that if we seek
to know what qualitative inquiry consists of, we
can do little better than analyze the work of
those for whom it is a necessary condition.
Eisner's concern with artistic modes of representing
knowledge grows out of his long-standing investigations of
aesthetic knowing and connoisseurship (Eisner 1979, 1985,
1991). What the connoisseur perceives aesthetically, he or
she will need to report in some public form. Research
becomes a matter of first perceiving and then "making public
the ineffable" (1979, 200). For this task, Eisner maintains
that "nothing is more precise than the artistic use of
language" (1979, 200).
In Athens, Georgia, at the International Conference on
Qualitative Research in Education (1996), Eisner suggested
five purposes of research:
1. Enlarge understanding. (Illuminate rather than
2. Engender a sense of empathy. (Provide a sense of
particularity, making it possible to get inside a
3. Provide for productive ambiguity. (Offer more
evocation, less closure. Stimulate multiple plausible
4. Increase the variety of questions we can ask.
(Stimulate the capacity to wonder.)
5. Exploit individual aptitudes of researchers. (Tap a
wide variety of human intelligences)
"Yes," he says, if it fulfills these purposes, "a novel
ought to count as research" (1996). In Living The
Ethnographic Life (1990), Mike Rose makes the case that
poetry, too, ought to count as a way of representing
knowledge. Marcus and Fischer perceived as early as 1986
that we are in an "experimental moment." Th.:.,u.nh it is
neither a novel nor a collection of poems, this dissertation
is part of the experiment.
A Statement of the Problem
For most of this century, efforts to understand
teachers and classrooms have been based in the concepts that
(a) teaching is a science and that (b) educational research
must follow the processes and precepts of the natural
sciences. Now, we are acknowledging that positivist
descriptions of teaching have been, by their very
definition, limited and decontextualized. They have taught
us less than we need to know.
During this same period of time, the arts have been
marginalized, held apart from the work of both "hard" and
"soft" sciences. During a positivist era, there has been no
expectation that artists, or persons of artistic
inclination, might work productively in other disciplines to
produce and encode knowledge. The advent of qualitative
research, which shares many of the values of art, has,
however, opened new possibilities.
Stated in conventional terms, the problem is one of
determining how, in the world of educational research,
understanding might be informed and enriched by artistic
vision and artistic modes of representation. If teaching is
an art full of complexity and nuance, then for examining and
understanding the teaching act, we need processes that
engage with complexity and nuance. For communicating what
we learn from such research, we need modes of representation
that have the power to communicate the richness of lived
Valerie J. Janesick is both a trained dancer and a
qualitative researcher. In "The Dance of Qualitative
Research Design," she examines some of the shared qualities
of dance and research and calls for interdisciplinary
research efforts that focus on lived experience:
The prevailing myths about aggregating numbers
and, more tragically, aggregating individuals into
sets of numbers have moved us away from our
understanding of lived experience. By using other
disciplines, such as art, sociology, history,
dance, architecture, and anthropology to inform
our research processes, we may broaden our
understanding of method and substance. (1994,
"[I]t is time," Janesick tells us, "to return to a discourse
on the personal, on what it means to be alive" (1994, 217).
This is the larger, deeper problem within which the problem
of representation resides. How do we avoid the error of
excessive abstraction? How do we stay connected to the
human purposes of research? This dissertation is concerned
with those questions and with possibilities for modes of
representation that help us retain the human dimension in
knowledge acquired about teaching through research.
Purpose, Methodology, and Mode of Reoresentation
The primary purpose of this dissertation is to explore
and exemplify, simultaneously, what can happen at the
intersections of art and research, art and teaching.
Purpose, methodology, and mode of representation are closely
linked. Instead of separating what I know as a teacher and
researcher from what I know as an artist, I am allowing
these dimensions to function in concert.
Within the resonance of the broad concerns I have
articulated here, this dissertation presents two evocative
representations of research on the teaching of poetry and
the poetry of teaching. The first examines the experiences
of twelve students in a fifth-year master's program in
English education. It follows their growth, examines the
issues that became central to their enterprise, and
witnesses their building of community. The research report
is in the form of a reader's theater script constructed from
participants' journals and poems. The second representation
follows one of those students through his internship,
focusing on how his artistic concerns manifest themselves in
his emergent teaching style. The nonchronological narrative
report borrows heavily from poetic technique and poetic
strategy. Each of these evocative representations is
accompanied by its own brief explanation of context,
purpose, and methodology. Each retains the visual
conventions of its own genre, most notably the use of white
space as part of a rhetorical strategy.
Methodologically, the two studies reported here borrow
from different qualitative strategies; they may both,
nevertheless, be said to fall under the broad rubric of
personal experience methods. In their discussion of
personal experience methods in the Handbook of Qualitative
Research, Jean D. Clandenin and F. Michael Connelly remind
education, experience, and life are inextricably
intertwined. In its most general sense, when one
asks what it means to study education, the answer
is to study experience. (1994, 415)
As defined by Clandenin and Connelly, personal experience
methods focus on the experiential whole, which is both
temporal and storied. They acknowledge the centrality of
the researcher's own experience and the critical role of the
relationship between the researcher and participants.
Moving from field texts to research texts, the researcher
"looks for the patterns, narrative threads, tensions, and
themes either within or across individuals' personal
experience" (1994, 423). For each of the pedagogy-focused
studies embedded in this dissertation, and for the
theoretical study that frames and infuses them, these
descriptors of methodology hold true.
EVOCATIVE REPRESENTATIONS: THE FIRST EXEMPLAR
The Context and the Problem
For thirteen years I taught English and creative
writing in a large, multicultural high school in Texas.
During that time, I became increasingly involved with and
committed to poetry, and in 1989 I entered the Warren Wilson
MFA Program for Writers. Over time, my experiences with
poetry and with the concept of "knowledge in the body" led
me to think about parallels between constructing poems and
constructing the teaching act.
When I was preparing for the first time to teach a
secondary English methods class for preservice teachers, I
made it my conscious challenge to bring what I had learned
about the making of poems to the task of preparing people to
teach English. I was particularly concerned with addressing
a widely acknowledged problem in teacher education: all too
often, it does not "stick." Teachers leave the university
knowing a great deal about research and psychology and
effective methods, but if we check on these teachers two or
three years later, we are likely to find them teaching not
in the ways they learned at the university, but in the ways
they themselves were taught.
As I considered this phenomenon, increasingly I
suspected that what preservice teachers needed from teacher
education was not only "a body of knowledge," but also
"knowledge in the body"--knowledge fully incorporated, in
the original sense of the word. When students enter a
fifth-year program, they have approximately seventeen years
of experience in classrooms, internalized knowledge about
what classrooms are like and what teachers do. They have
seventeen years, at least, of deeply incorporated
miseducation about schools and teaching. The problem
becomes: What can we do that is powerful enough to
counteract this? How can we effect transformations?
Transformation is at the heart of the artist's
enterprise. Artistic transformation occurs at several
levels--transformation of materials, transformation of the
quality of time, and, ultimately, transformation of being
and understanding. Every artist hopes to offer the viewer,
listener, reader an experience that is potentially
transformative. Significant encounters with art do change
us, sometimes subtly in ways we hardly recognize, sometimes
powerfully at the level of epiphany. After such
encounters, we walk away just a little different from who we
I wanted the preservice teachers in my charge to walk
away from our encounter at least a little different from who
they were before, a little changed in relation to their
beliefs about teaching and schools. I wanted to do more
than fill their heads with facts that might dissipate into
air within a few years, seeming discredited by experiences
"in the real world." I wanted them to know best practices,
not as a list of research results, but as meaningful
experiences they had had, experiences genuine and powerful
enough that they would want to enact them for their own
I would follow the creative writer's dictum to show,
not tell. If I wanted students to know about classrooms in
which the teacher's role is de-centered, I would de-center
my role. If I wanted them to understand the processes of a
writing workshop, we would enact those processes. If I
wanted to share with them the potential value of
constructing poems, I would engage them in making poems. If
I wanted them to know about drawing as a response to
literature, we would draw. The immediate goal was
experience itself. The long-range goal was enduring
transformation--an enriched awareness of what teaching and
learning might be, an unshakable sense of possibility.
Notes about Method
In their discussion of personal experience methods,
Clandenin and Connelly use the term "field texts" rather
than the quantitative term "data." They note that "some
documents that eventually become field texts may have been
created prior to the inquiry, or even during the inquiry but
for a different purpose" (Clandenin and Connelly 1994, 419).
Such was the case for the study reported here. I did not
set out with the intention of "doing research" with this
methods class. I simply set out to teach. Several of the
assignments I gave my students ultimately, however, became
field texts. The transformation of these field texts into
an evocative representation became a matter of looking for
the "patterns, narrative threads, tensions, and themes
[both] within [and] across individuals' personal experience"
(Clandenin and Connelly 1994, 419).
During the course of the semester, I asked my methods
students to keep journals. My instructions were somewhat
unorthodox. I told them that I would never read these
journals in their entirety, would never take the journals
out of their hands, but at the end of the semester, I would
ask them to type out twenty-five pages of material that they
chose for me to see. I told them they could write about
anything they wanted in these journals, encouraged them not
to limit themselves to highly focused writing about becoming
teachers. "Just keep a journal of your lives," I said,
"during this period of time when you are becoming teachers.
Then, at the end of the semester, pull out material that
seems relevant. And remember: I will only see what you
choose for me to see." These instructions had some
important results. The students often wrote things they had
absolutely no intention of letting me see. But, at the end
of the semester, when trust was established, they were
willing to let me see what they had not intended for me to
see. The honesty of what they shared was remarkable.
In another semester-long assignment, each student was
asked to construct a handbook in the form of a loose-leaf
binder. The handbook would be a collection of materials,
articles, quotes, cartoons, poems or whatever seemed
personally relevant for the task ahead. "Gather into this
notebook whatever is meaningful to you--things you know you
want to hang onto to carry with you into the classroom."
Each person would organize these materials in whatever way
seemed appropriate and would write an introduction to the
handbook, making meaning of the contents and of the process
of forming the collection.
We also spent considerable time with poets and poetry.
We talked about Keats' concept of negative capability, which
he defined as the ability to dwell in uncertainty, "without
irritable reaching after fact and reason" (qtd. in Walker
1992, 1). Keats saw negative capability as a critical
capacity for poets. We saw that it might also be critical
for teachers; as soon as we become certain of something, we
shut down a whole range of possibilities. Teachers need,
along with Emily Dickinson, to "dwell in possibility."
Throughout the semester, these students becoming
teachers also wrote poems--poems from their personal lives
and poems from their classroom experiences. In one
instance, I asked them to use poems as a form of research
report. Their assignment called for the traditional methods
of case study: choose one student to observe closely over
time. "Select a student who seems alien to you for some
reason," I advised, "someone you feel you don't understand.
Watch, listen, take notes, reflect." Instead of producing
the usual third person report, however, I asked them to
write a poem from the point of view of the person studied.
"Write in first person, and incorporate at least one line of
speech you actually heard from this student."
Ultimately, the journals, the handbook introductions,
and the poems became field texts. From these texts, the
reader's theater script which follows, "Poetry and Passion
in Teacher Education: Personalizing and Internalizing
Knowledge," was constructed. This script includes no
interspersed narration or explication--only the students'
exact words, written at the time, and later pieced together
in somewhat the fashion of a found poem.
Construction of the Script
Although there are now computer programs for managing
qualitative data, I worked in the original tradition. The
process was visual and physical. It began on the living
room floor. I cut copies of the journal entries and
handbook introductions into strips, color coding each strip
to indicate its author, and organized the coded strips into
piles representing themes, concerns, or events: uncertainty,
racism, community building, or the NCTE convention, for
example. Then I began weaving the script from the voices
that literally surrounded me.
There were a number of artistic challenges. I wanted
to be sure that each voice was heard and that each voice was
distinct. I wanted the script to tell a number of
individual stories and simultaneously tell a collective
story. I also had to solve the problem of my own presence
in the text. I would not "speak" in the script, but to
eliminate my presence completely would be inappropriate. I
was very much a part of the experience that is the subject
of the script, and to leave myself out would be to falsify.
In fact, I hoped that part of the message of the script, for
an audience of teacher educators, would be: there are
things we can do to facilitate transformation. If I took
myself out of the picture, I eliminated the possibility of
that message. Clifford Geertz (1988) suggests that the
dilemma of figuring out how to be in the text is one of the
most difficult with which a writer of qualitative research
must grapple. I found that to be true. Ultimately, I
decided to allow into the script a few, as few as possible,
of the students' references to my role in the process--just
enough to remind the audience that I was there and to
suggest that, like the others represented in the script, I
had a role to play in the community we became.
There was also a problem in relation to structuring
time. During the course of the semester, these students had
actually had two different practicum experiences, one
immediately after the other, but the presentation of two
separate segments on the practicum proved awkward and
artistically redundant. I collapsed the two practicums into
a single segment focusing on classroom experiences.
The weaving of poems into the script became problematic
as well. The poems written from research were, by
assignment, in first person from the point of view of the
young persons studied. The script was in first person from
the point of view of preinterns. Ultimately, of the case-
study poems, I was only able to use the ones written by
Shelley Scholl, who had negotiated with me a variation on
the assignment. Instead of one poem incorporating the point
of view of one student, she wanted to do a series of
vignettes about every member of one class. These short
pieces wove nicely into the fabric of the script. Other
poems included in the script were written for other
The script grew slowly by painstaking, nonlinear
accretion as I grappled with problems and tried to balance
themes and voices. About midway in the process, students
began volunteering to assist. One, two, or three at a time
would come to help me sift through the piles of strips and
place them in significant juxtapositions. We would read and
re-read, decide where there needed to be more or less
substantiation of a concept, where the pace needed to be
speeded up or slowed down, where voices needed to echo or
contrast, always working toward something that "felt" like
an accurate representation of the experience we had shared.
Sometimes, a volunteer would be reading through a theme-
related stack and would remember, "You know, I didn't type
it out and turn it in, but I have something in my journal
that really fits with this. I'll bring it to you."
Sometimes, the recollection would be of a text another
student had written but that did not seem to be in our
resources. "I'll ask her about it and see if it would be
okay to use it." In this way, the bank of field texts
continued to expand.
When there was finally a complete first draft, the
entire group gathered for a read-through. During the read-
through, each person made notes on his or her copy of the
script. Afterward, we did some oral processing. There were
differences of opinion. For example, knowing that we would
be performing the script for a professional audience within
a few months, a few were uncomfortable with the inclusion of
profane language in several journal excerpts. Some felt
that it was appropriate because it was an accurate
representation of the speaker's alienation at that point,
and it provided a striking contrast to how he felt and how
he spoke later. Others remained uncomfortable. Ultimately,
I would have to weigh these arguments and decide. In this
case, I found a middle ground, trimming profane utterances
to a bare minimum for accomplishing what I considered to be
a valid purpose from the perspectives of both art and
At the end of the read-through session, they gave me
their annotated scripts to take home and use in the ongoing
revision. Volunteers continued to check in on the process.
Later, upon a read-through of the significantly revised
second draft, the group judged it acceptable, pending a few
This kind of group checking provided what Eisner refers
to as "structural corroboration," one way of assessing the
validity of an evocative representation: "Structural
corroboration is the term I use to describe the confluence
of multiple sources of evidence or the recurrence of
instances that support a conclusion. In many evaluation
circles it is called triangulation" (1991, 55). To a large
extent, the journal texts themselves provided structural
corroboration; the additional direct involvement of
participants strengthened assurances of validity.
An Ethical Concern/The Issue of Voice and Ownership
Traditionally, and for good reason, researchers
substitute pseudonyms for the names of participants in a
project. Protection of anonymity is usually a primary
ethical concern. This project is different. The
participants in this study have already publicly claimed the
texts they contributed to the final report. They have
performed this script twice for professional audiences.
They are proud to be represented by their own words and to
assist in the communication of their individual and
collective experience. They do not want to be anonymous and
have indicated that they would be seriously offended if I
rendered them anonymous at this point. Their names are
Elena Agar, Charline Burgess, Calvin Dillon, Jennifer Gude,
Kevin Kendall, Robin Lee, Natalie Milian, Joe Recchi,
Shelley Scholl, Marc Sokol, Julie Welch, and Emily Zellner.
The Purpose of the Study
The purpose of this study of preservice teachers is "to
inscribe a present--to convey in words 'what it is like' to
be somewhere specific in the lifeline of the world" (Geertz
1988, 143). In this case, we focus on the lifelines of
twelve teachers at the beginnings of their careers. We
follow them on a journey from uncertainty, isolation, and
naivete to confidence, community, and awareness. The
purpose is to "connect with fundamentally human qualities"
of their experience (Clandenin and Connelly 1994, 425). In
doing so, this study intends to raise questions about the
very nature of teacher education--not to propose definitive
answers or to demonstrate unequivocal cause and effect, but
rather to suggest possibilities and to stimulate imaginative
thinking in relation to teacher education.
This study wonders, along with Maxine Greene, "whether
we are distancing teachers from their actual bodies and
asking them to treat themselves (as well as their students)
as information machines" (1986, 70). It proposes, along
with her, that we need to "move the young to take
consciously critical and cognitive action with regard to
their lived worlds" (Greene 1986, 78) and that doing so
requires passionate engagement.
Poetry and Passion in Teacher Education:
Personalizing and Internalizing Knowledge
In the beginning .
Robin: What in the world am I doing here?
Emily: I'm so nervous. What if I can't do it?
Julie: There's so much I don't know about literature and
the English language--and I'm supposed to teach
Nathalie: I feel really lost.
Jenny: We sat in this room, and they divided a list of
the English PROTEACH people into two halves for
our Methods classes. They literally tore our
names apart and put us into two piles. Then my
half (this half) went to another room with this
woman named Anne Sullivan.
Shelley: It's hard for me to keep answering this Why-I-
decided-to-become-a-teacher question. I don't
have a hard and fast, clear-cut, idealistic
response. It's not like teaching was some kind of
lifelong dream for me.
Nathalie: I really don't know what type of teacher I'm going
Jenny: There are actually guys in our class. I always
thought guys were all but obsolete in teaching
Kevin: I'm a little worried about being in an education
program. I've heard so much that suggests it
might not be rigorous or ch3n.enging enough. I
don't like to be bored. -E.-:i -1, when there's
so much that's important about education.
Nathalie: I have all these great ideas in my head, but I
don't know what will happen in the classroom.
Elena: I have so much to learn!
Jenny: Most of the people I know who came to college have
changed majors several times, but I still haven't
found anything that seems more appealing to me
than teaching. Except for sixth grade, when I
wanted to be a marine biologist, I have always
wanted to be a teacher.
Calvin: God, I hated high school! Why in the hell am I
doing this? Why would I want to spend the rest of
my life in a place that was nothing but pain for
Shelley: My instincts tell me this is where I belong. How
stupid is that?
Elena: I can use all the tips for teaching I can find.
Charline: Answers, I wish I had all the answers.
Emily: I am such a dork. We didn't have class today, and
I went anyway.
Joe: I have to keep a journal? Angst in black and
Shelley: I'm really glad someone is forcing me to keep this
free-form kind of journal, because it removes a
lot of my constraints about the undertaking. I
never want to write anything down unless I feel
like it's "profound"--even though I know the
profound may very well arise from something
Emily: I've got to remember to write in this journal. I
am just not a journal writer. I was going to do
an oral journal, but decided it would be cheating,
so I've resigned myself to the old traditional
Marc: This class so far doesn't feel competitive. It's
more team-oriented than I expected. There's a
nice feeling of companionship. This is a new
experience, unique to me so far in my college
career. I'm sure I need this for now, until I am
ready to go off on my own in front of a high
Calvin: I don't really know anybody in this stupid class
except for Kevin. I think I get along with him
because we're both kinda dorky. That's probably
what attracts me to Joe, too. I used to be the
same way, hiding behind five dollar words so I
didn't really have to say anything. I don't know
about Marc. I can't really figure him out. I've
never had much of a connection with frat guys, but
that's probably just the dork in me being jealous
of beautiful people who seem to be together.
Kevin: What bothered me about being a journalist was
always being alone. But I may be alone here, too.
Calvin: I had a good time talking to Nathalie and Emily,
but I feel like I make them nervous. I don't
really know Robin or Charline or Tasha or Shelley
(my God this is a long list) or Elena or Julie at
all. I don't really feel a part of this group.
They seem to be optimistic, which I read somewhere
is a common personality trait of teachers. Maybe
I need to get out before I do any real damage.
Robin: PROTEACH is making me think. For the first time
after all those education classes, I am actually
thinking about what I want to do in my classroom.
Charline: I had to teach a short story introduction last
week. I was terrified, but I did okay.
Emily: I think I'm going to do a creative writing
assignment. I've found a good piece that I can
read as an example, and I'll let everyone else do
their own. As nervous as I get when we have to
stand up and attempt to teach, I really am glad
that we are doing it now and not waiting until our
Joe: We've only convened four times, and I'm already
going to have to teach my second mini-lesson. I
-lirL. before I approach this one, I'm going to
have to take my memories of the last lesson and
give them a formal cremation. I don't use the
word debacle often, but Sheesh! I was too
nervous, too self conscious.
Elena: Teaching takes up so much creativity.
Shelley: I presented my writing stimulus to the methods
class today, and now I'm at home obsessing about
it. Basically, I'm mad at myself for wanting, in
a sense, to show off. I don't want to turn into
the kind of show-off, know-it-all kind of person
that I and everyone else hate to be around. I'm
so damned hyper-aware of my need for approval and
Emily: Shelley's idea with the paint samples for "The
Yellow Wallpaper" was great. Not only was it
creative, but the kids get to take something home.
I've always wondered why once you get to high
school, you stop creating things to take home and
show your parents.
Nathalie: Am I going to be able to do such wonderful and
exciting things like everyone else? I don't know
if I can pump out original ideas from my head
Emily: I'm nervous about my presentation today in class.
Marc: It's a good experience to learn from peers, from
their good points and their mistakes, because we
have all been there and are hopefully all striving
for the same goal, to become good teachers.
Joe: The blond guy (I think his name is Kevin) was kind
of helpful. His advice was sincere and well-
taken, I thought.
Calvin: I dunno. What the hell am I going to do if I
can't stand in front of a group of people without
sounding like a babbling, mumbling reject from a
bad Woody Allen movie? Everybody looked so
confused! If I can't form a coherent thought or
explain what I mean to a bunch of grad students,
how can I possibly hope to make any kind of a
connection with high schoolers? -- I know! I
could teach correspondence courses.
Joe: I got it! I'm going to bring a doctor's note
exempting me from teaching any more. I've got
asthma and can't stand up and talk to a lot of
people for long periods of time.
Nathalie: Teaching is really hard.
Robin: My class will not be bored by literature.
Marc: I want my students to realize that literature is
not some dead knowledge they must learn, analyze,
and understand. It is, in fact, living, changing,
and surrounding their daily lives.
Charline: I want them to know that there is no one meaning
of what they read, and how they interpret is an
integral part of their personality.
Emily: If there is one area where I really hope not to
fail my students, it is a combination of the
emotional and social. I don't think that I'll
fail them intellectually. I really think that
I'll be able to teach them if I don't fail them by
alienating them. I believe that teachers who fail
their students intellectually are often the ones
who have alienated students and created an
atmosphere in which students don't believe in
themselves or their teacher.
Robin: I don't think I could stand to be the teacher
society conceives of: boring, unintelligent,
Joe: I want my students to be interested, and I don't
want to teach them something I don't want to teach
Robin: I know I want to inspire and liberate and empower
and unfold, but do I really want to be a teacher?
Anybody: Maybe this isn't for me.
Anybody: Maybe this isn't for me.
All: Maybe this isn't for me.
Calvin: It pisses me off that the only real writing that I
did in high school happened outside of the
classroom. I know I want my classroom to be
different. I just feel like I can't be a Nancie
Atwell or an Anne fucking Sullivan.
Charline: Today is the first time I am doubting my choice of
profession (in a really nagging sort of way).
What does all this mean?
Elena: How can I connect the real world with school?
Charline: I watched "The Good Son" tonight with Macauley
Culkin. Are there really "evil" kids, and what do
I do if I get one in my classes?
Elena: How can I create a comfortable atmosphere for my
Charline: What happens if you get a student in your class
that you really don't like? How do you deal with
Elena: What am I going to do if there is a special ed
student in my classroom? LEP?--fine. Special
Charline: What is all this about ending a sentence with a
preposition or not? Do you use "with which"
before the subject or at the end just use "with?"
Jenny: I plodded through a lot of abstract undergraduate
education classes and literary criticism classes
to get to where I can apply any of it to what I
want to do. Now that I'm here, I am clueless about
HOW I will teach kids.
Charline: How do you decide what kids read?
Emily: What if I screw up?
Elena: Is everyone else having such a hard time?
Charline: How do you imagine properly?
Julie: I gave my writing prompt in class today, and it
didn't go well. I made a fool out of myself. I
completely blanked out. A huge void filled my
brain due to extreme nervousness, and the next
thing I know, I'm sitting down. But I got back up
after a couple of minutes. My classmates were
supportive, but I'm really embarrassed.
Calvin: I want so much to be natural. I want to be the
kind of teacher who listens and talks and reads
and writes with his students and helps them to
live and think deeply.
Charline: I want my students to feel like they can go
anywhere and that they are seeing and experiencing
other parts of the world through reading, writing,
and the things they do in my classroom.
Marc: I feel among good friends here--maybe even family
within this group. Everyone is going through a
similar experience, and we draw off each other for
support and encouragement.
Jenny: We all went to Market Street Pub Thursday night.
We had a great time. I think we're going to make
it a Thursday night tradition. It's nice to be
friends with people in classes finally. I guess
it's true that you have the most fun at school in
kindergarten and in graduate school.
Julie: At Market Street, I talked to people from my class
about my writing prompt screw-up. Elena said,
Elena: It was bound to happen to someone and I thought
that someone was going to be me.
Julie: I don't think they think I'm such an airhead after
Calvin: Wow. I talked to Anne in her office yesterday,
and then I went to Market Street last night. I
need to really start working on stuff for this
class. I mean, I'm keeping up, but that's not
what this woman is about.
Charline: Wow. It seems to be my favorite word lately. I
am reading Seeking Diversity, and I keep getting
lumps in my throat and tears in my eyes when I
read the stories and the student writing.
Calvin: I really like Rief and Atwell. Their stuff works
because they quit listening to what they thought
they were saying and doing and started to really
pay attention. They stepped back and created a
physical and philosophical environment that
fostered real writing.
Emily: I think that in order to learn, students have to
believe in themselves and their teachers. I have
had teachers that had so much confidence in me
that they made me have confidence in myself. It
was those teachers that I learned the most from.
Calvin: Kids need to have time to feel their own way and
listen to themselves and listen to others.
Charline: I loved the Einliih J7:lu, -l. This was written in
plain English, and enjoyable English, and it was
funny, and it made me cry, and it made me talk
back to it.
Julie: I found an article on gender-balanced curriculum.
Margaret Anne Zeller Carlson gives practical
advice on how to make sure women's voices are
heard. I will look back at this often.
Shelley: Most of the articles I'm reading are by women. I
am grateful to hear a bunch of women's voices,
voices I can respect and admire, a lucky accident
of professional choice.
Marc: I found an article dealing with sexual
stereotyping in literature. Barbara Pace opened
my eyes. Now I'm seeing this kind of stereotyping
in literature and in daily life.
Charline: At first, I thought article reading was going to
be a dry experience. Even though I thought I knew
I wanted to teach, I still had that memory of
RESEARCH and dreaded JOURNAL READING in my head.
I kept envisioning boring psychological patterning
articles about how bad kids were. Boy, was I ever
Marc: Class discussions and these articles are teaching
me that as English teachers, we cannot search for
and emphasize set meanings in literature. We have
to be open to other interpretations students may
have, and respect and validate these opinions.
Joe: These articles are showing me that Tom Romano and
Linda Christensen and countless others have
"broken the rules" in their classrooms, choosing
their students' voices and clear, honest, free
expression over the correct use of commas and
Charline: I really am liking our textbook. Making the
Journey, by Leila Christenbury.
Calvin: I decided to use "Jabberwocky" by Lewis Carroll to
teach the class the role of syntax in determining
part of speech. "Jabbberwocky" is the only poem I
know in entirety by heart. So, I opened
with a joke to get over being nervous. Then I
took two big steps forward (figuratively and
physically) and recited in an uncharacteristically
audible voice, the first stanza of the poem. They
all heard me, and I felt good for the first time
about sharing something in front of a group.
Maybe I just need to be more myself and less who I
think I'm supposed to be.
Jenny: We had to write a poem in only five minutes, and
tomorrow Anne will read them out loud! I'm
Elena: I tried to write a poem about what happened
Thursday night and all the nights like it. I
couldn't. It's painful. I can't do a poem.
Emily: I never write poetry, so I'm really hesitant and
unsure about my work.
Jenny: I was SO nervous to have my work read. It felt so
unfinished when I left class and turned my poem in
yesterday. The whole time my poem was being
discussed, I had to really try not to giggle. I
was embarrassed, even though nobody knew who wrote
it. The thing is, people seemed to really like
some of the things I had written. There may
actually be a writer inside me!
Charline: That was a really neat feeling to have people
react positively to my work.
Joe: It's important to make helpful comments that are
actually helpful, comments that empower and
reinforce, rather than simply indicating what
someone didn't do or shouldn't have done.
Calvin: I'm perfectly aware in my life of the things that
I do wrong; it's knowing that there is the
possibility for an alternative that helps you to
grow and change.
Shelley: I am always thankful that we have the sort of
flexible classroom and curriculum that we do--
especially because so much real communication and
Jenny: First field experience starts tomorrow. Calvin
and I are placed together at a middle school.
Nathalie: I am terrified about tomorrow.
Jenny: Tomorrow is my first day as Ms. Gude.
All: [Softly, warily] Let the games [pause] begin.
Robin: Now I am the authority. How frightening.
Nathalie: I stand before the mirror,
a cheap one from Walmart.
I don't like what I see--
a nervous girl,
dressed up in her mother's clothing.
Too young to look this old.
I am terrified.
Marc: It was weird how the kids looked at us as adults,
having no idea we were actually very nervous
Joe: I still sit too close to the TV, Indian style. I
still go to Toys-R-Us and want stuff. I still buy
cereal with prizes at the bottom.
Jenny: We got to school at 7:45 this morning and Dr.
Wright told us to get here at 8:20! Calvin and I
sat in the car until 8:10, carefully watching the
clock and looking around until we thought it was
late enough to actually be here.
Marc: "Mr. Sokol" is going to be hard to get used to.
Nathalie: I like a big high school with lots of diversity
and lots of things going on. I liked not being
able to walk down the hallways because all the
kids are blocking the walkway.
Elena: My class seems like it's going to be good. I'm
Nathalie: Jeremy was a wonderful discovery. I was once
Jeremy, but not as bad. I was cocky, arrogant,
obnoxious and defensive in high school. It was
wonderful to look at myself through my newly
formed teacher's eyes. I hope I can take down the
masks of my own arrogant students when the time
Robin: I think I just have to get used to the class, and
the school, and standing up in front of them, and
somehow, I need to get their respect. Once I have
all that, whether it takes me a year or just a
month of internship, I know the sick feeling will
Marc: In the ninth-grade honors class, seats were
limited, so Joe sat with the students.
Joe: I took a seat in the back of the room, trying
desperately to blend in.
Marc: As unprofessional as it was, I could not help but
laugh seeing 22-year-old Joe sitting with a bunch
Joe: I'm betting that the Oleg Cassini tie was a dead
Elena: I feel stupid. I couldn't figure out how to open
the pencil sharpener. You have to push some
confangled new-age thing at the back. Geez.
Emily: I can already tell that Dr. Carroll has a great
rapport with his kids. They all listen (which I
think is rare for middle school) and stop talking
without him having to stop teaching. A few of the
students even came up and hugged him because he
had been away at a conference and they had missed
him. It was nice to see.
Kevin: I think I'm going to like Mrs. Harrell a lot. She
reminds me very much of Ms. Allison, one of my
favorite high school teachers. She just seems to
be bursting with energy.
Emily: The fact that he was at a conference this week and
is going to another next weekend says good things
about him. It sounds like he's not one of those
teachers who forget about learning new things once
they have a job. I hope I never get to that
Marc: By the end of the first class, I had gone through
my first three days of lesson plans.
Julie: The first day, we simply observed the two class
periods, but on the second day and throughout the
week, we began to walk around the room and help
those who needed us.
Charline: Glenny, came to school today with a sign stapled
to his backpack: WILL WORK FOR HALF OF FOOD
STAMPS. I think he meant half of your food
stamps. I think, in some way, we got to him
yesterday. He responded.
Marc: I've had a disturbing insight--the tremendous
number of students some teachers have. Mrs. Pitts
has 150 middle schoolers. I don't know how she
Shelley: One boy, who wrote about the Cyclops, spelled the
plural C-y-c-1-o-p-e-s. I had to look it up. It
was right, but the teacher came and imrreidiajt'l1
circled the first incidence of the plural, saying,
"Cyclops has no e." So I said, "That's what I
thought, but I looked it up, and it was the
correct plural form." So she says, "Oh, I don't
believe this student would know that," and she
sticks a question mark over it. So I was bad and
rebelled. After she walked away, I went back and
wrote, "Great use of really strange plural form!"
Charline: I learned a lot about what not to do in the
classroom--yell at them to try to make them stop
talking; always make them stay in their desks;
ridicule them to teach them a lesson; and
constantly correct grammar, spelling, and
conventions without touching on content.
Jenny: Instead of spending half a class doing worksheets,
they could be doing a lot more writing!
Julie: When a student asked me to read her paper, I
didn't go through and mark all the misspellings
and grammar mistakes. I first told her what I
liked about her story and pointed to sentences
that were especially telling. I then asked her
about a couple of words or sentences that I was
confused about. She appreciated it, and I
felt better about helping her with content instead
of marking every grammatical mistake.
Joe: Dear Abbey, I've been heavily in to drugs for over
a year now and have no one to turn to.
Dear Desperate, "Into" is one word, and you should
avoid ending sentences with a preposition. Good
Robin: I have the urge to take over now, to offer to do
this or that, run things in the class, but I have
to remind myself to hold back until I can have
complete control, and until I have all the names
Nathalie: All the kids were standing up, talking, not doing
their work. It was complete chaos. I had to tell
them, "I expect all of you to sit down and stop
talking." I said it calmly and quietly, but they
all heard me. Immediately, they sat down and
started listening! What a sense of power!
Emily: I'm in a sixth-grade reading-writing workshop. At
first I really thought it was unorganized and
crazy, but as the days went by, I began to realize
that there was a specific order to things.
Julie: I'm enjoying helping writers strengthen their
attention to detail. I ask them questions like
"What did her voice sound like?" "What did the
pizza taste like?"
Shelley: Girls don't make noise in these classes. I hate
that. It's like they're nothing but an audience
for the boys.
Elena: I definitely noticed how the boys in the classroom
completely dominate it. I see the silent girl
Shelley: Adrian pats the round percussion
of her belly with cautious palms,
absorbed in rhythmic dialogue
with the kicking becoming inside.
Smoothing the cover of The Little Prince,
she tells us, "This is the first book
I ever wanted to read twice."
Robin: I want so much for them. I hope I do them
Shelley: I think the hardest part about teaching may be how
much you have to give of yourself to the students.
It's like they suck the life right out of you,
even though they're bursting with more life than
they know what to do with. I'm hungry.
Julie: I sure was exhausted afterwards--and hungry!
Standing on your feet for two hours straight in
front of teenagers really makes you burn some
Marc: I decided to battle the chronic dry-mouth syndrome
with a glass of water, only I forgot and left it
in the teacher's lounge. I asked another teacher
when the dry-mouth experience would stop. He
said, "Probably when you stop teaching." I guess
I'll have to get used to it.
Kevin: "Today, we're following Mr. Kendall's directions,"
she said. But when I put up the samples I had
created to respond to each of the two writing
prompts, I realized that in my cutting and
pasting, I had cut off the last part of the first
piece. ALWAYS PROOFREAD YOUR OVERHEADS, DIMWIT!
Calvin: I don't know what happened today. The writing
prompt just flopped. It really sounded good on
paper in that book--"Write about a time when your
expectations weren't met." I thought they could
be thoughtful and have fun. But the kids were
bored, and I had a hard time keeping them on task.
Nathalie: Christenbury was right: Working with teenagers is
Calvin: When we got in the car, I was whining to Jenny
about what a shitty job I did so she would tell me
I did okay, but then she turned it around on me:
Jenny: I think you need to ask yourself why you want to
be a teacher, Calvin.
Calvin: I didn't really have an answer. So I said
something sarcastic. But as I sat in class later,
chewing the cud of the day's events, I kept coming
back to that question. I realized that I have no
idea why I want to teach. That scares me.
Charline: Josh, a quiet white boy in jeans, boots, and
flannel shirts every day, was passed by. He was
so unobtrusive and he did his work and we forgot
about him. I think he is something I need to
think about a lot more--Josh and the other
students like him.
Shelley: Silent in the corner,
stares down at his boot toes,
out the window,
wishes he were
Robin: If I can appeal to him, everything else will fall
naturally into place. He is listening all along
and just waiting for something that actually
applies to him.
Marc: I looked up and saw Bobby eagerly awaiting my
attention. "Here's my letter, Mr. Sokol. I put a
stamp on it yesterday. Can I send it now?" He
had made all his corrections; it was ready. After
class, I asked Mrs. Pitts about Bobby, told her
how pleased I was about his enthusiasm. She told
me that he was one to watch out for--on probation
at 13 for setting a house on fire. She was
surprised at his cooperation; this was the first
assignment he'd seemed interested in.
Elena: If a teacher wants to be a teacher, she has to see
the good in her students.
Shelley: Anzaveain couldn't spell his name till eighth
"Are you going to college next year?"
"No. I'm just going to stay in Alachua and
be a thug."
Marc: I keep thinking about Bobby. I had met him as my
student, and interacted with him on the basis of
what I observed of him. If I had known about his
past, would things have been different? Would I
have tried as hard as I did to engage him? Would
I have given him the benefit of the doubt?
Shelley: Anzaveain complains because he
can't decipher Chuck's handwriting
on the worksheet he is copying.
"I'm going to major in chemistry, and blow up
"Will you call and warn me first?"
"Sure. I'll give you thirty days notice."
Anzaveain, headed for a football scholarship.
Kevin: One kid, and I'm trying hard not to stereotype,
but all the worst of a cocky football player, just
sat there the whole time doing nothing. He
told me he was working on myths. I said, "Great,
what myth?" He said, "David and Goliath?" I
said, "Well, how about putting your hands on a
Bible and re-reading the story?" "They don't have
Bibles in schools," he said.
Julie: You have to be quick on your feet in teaching!
Kevin: I know I studied the Bible as literature in ninth
grade Adam and Eve, the Garden of Eden, the
tree of knowledge, apples, serpents I
thought that for sure in Florida--the book-banning
capital of the world--they would at least be
fighting tooth and nail to keep the Bible on the
So I said, Mickey, I'm pretty sure it's a biblical
story, and I'm also pretty sure that they keep
Bibles on the shelves of the library." How else
did I check all those biblical references in
Milton? Maybe college libraries are different
from high school libraries? Why is it that you're
always so confident before they start asking you
Shelley: Karen holds her breath each night,
holds Clay in the swaying single-wide,
fingers her engagement ring
and prays for eighteen.
Calvin: I like tilting at windmills. There is definitely
something compelling about a futile task. If it
fails, you always have the improbability of
success to blame instead of yourself for trying in
the first place.
Robin: I think this practicum is making me crazy.
Calvin: I don't want teaching to be a futile task, but I
wonder when I look in my mind's eye at everything
that I did wrong today when I was trying to be so
right, that I shouldn't just hang it up and go
back to working full time at Micrographics. At
least I would have the comfort of knowing that I
could do well what I was getting paid to do. Of
course, a monkey with a prefrontal lobotomy could
probably do my job there.
Kevin: I can't believe I was late today of all days.
Here I spend all night trying to get the prompt
like I want it and roll around in bed wondering if
I did it right, and then I miss the first ten
minutes when they usually do the journal writing.
I should know better than to mess with Mondays.
Emily: Today is one of those days that I really feel out
Elena: Tomorrow will be different.
Jenny: One of my kids was kidding around in class,
playing like he was going to hit me. He did!
Emily: I can't believe this kid just grabbed my ass!
Nathalie: It's so scary! I feel that all I can do is manage
a class. Teaching is a secondary concern. How
will I be able to teach after all this management!
Kevin: They don't like to write and talking is their way
of resisting. But they have so many important
things to say. Why can't they translate those
oral skills to writing? I need more than three
weeks to figure that one out.
Charline: Will I always be nervous in front of my students?
Elena: I still haven't thought about any "deep" issues
about school. I don't think I'm sane enough to.
Marc: For the second day in a row, we had to go back to
school to search for materials Joe left on top of
the car when we drove off. When we got there, a
team of construction workers was combing the
street and parking lot for hundreds of pages,
Elena: Ran out of gas. Again. I think this shows how
stressed I am.
Robin: I think I have finally become disillusioned.
Calvin: It's got to get better than this.
Kevin: I had them write about their personal dragons.
Based on what I saw in class, I thought the
writing would be a disaster, but when I started
reading the papers tonight, there were some really
interesting pieces--some great slang dialogues.
Robin: Al is a student in my placement that I feel a
great tenderness toward.
Kevin: Their personal dragons included laziness,
depression, confusion, and anger.
Charline: How valuable it would be to allow kids time to
express what they're feeling and getting out of
Shelley: Pale and deliberate
in the kind of dress
that advertises limbs,
she bares her fangs.
"Do I look like a child to you?"
[Emily], moving fast
to surpass fast sisters,
crashes forward, speaks
in a voice too old,
with a knowing too certain:
"I lost my creativity
somewhere in adolescence."
Robin: When I asked him if he had been drawing lately, he
quickly straightened up and said earnestly, "NO,
no, no ma'am!" He thought I was trying to catch
him in the act. I will show him that teachers
sometimes want to see you do what you are good at.
Jenny: These kids are teaching me wonderful stuff.
Elena: A lot of my preconceptions about "honors" kids and
"regular" kids have changed. I can't stand those
labels any more. My best experiences were with
the regular class, while my worst were with the
Robin: I am getting ideas of what it will be like to have
these kids waiting for me to make the first move,
and most important, I am beginning to feel like I
will be able to do it.
Marc: Teaching, at this point, seems easier if you try
to be yourself and not some know-it-all, or ideal
teacher. If this profession allows me to really
be myself, and enjoy my work at the same time,
then I will love it.
Charline: I'll get there. And I'm not so sure I have to be
so big and bad and grown up. I just have to be
sensitive to my students' and my own needs and to
be able to develop trust.
Julie: Oh, Amanda! I wanted to hug you when I saw the
tears streaming down your face, but "professional
ethics" kept me from doing so. I tried to comfort
you as best I could--believe me, I've been there.
I know how frustrating it is when the words you
want to write won't come out, and even if they
would, you're not sure if you should make such
family secrets public.
I've been told that I probably shouldn't have put
my hands on your shoulders. How could I not?
It's my nature. I do it to everyone I care about.
Elena: A teacher is such a powerful presence in a
student's life. It is important not to abuse that
Jenny: There were times when I wondered, "What right or
business do I have trying to teach anybody
anything?" Now I know I do have that right, and I
believe I can be effective.
Charline: Their creativity is wonderful and mind blowing.
Joe: I had them write self portraits. I told them I
would read them out loud, and "As soon as you
think you know who it is, raise your hand." Cut
to today, T minus no minutes to payoff. I'm in a
chair at the front, with twenty portraits in my
clutches. I begin reading. The writing is great,
and I'm getting caught up in it. I become
distracted by sounds of restlessness. Looking up,
I witness twelve or thirteen hands shot up in the
air, accompanied by lots of "Oooh ooh--I know's.
I felt like I had arrived at my own surprise
Nathalie: I hope, I wish that someone tells Matt how
outrageously talented he is. He can rap, he can
rhyme, he can draw. Creativity is rolling off
Julie: I ran into Glenny today at the projects when I
went to pick up Sharae. I said "Hi," and he asked
how I knew Sharae. I could tell from their
exchanged glances that they disliked one another.
Rae told me as we drove away that he was always
"up to no good" and would "end up in jail real
Will I be able to have enough of an influence to
keep my students from being another crime
statistic? I can't just sit by as more and more
young people lose hope and trash their futures. I
will be an advocate for our kids as well as a
Charline: I've tried to understand what it's like to be 14
and in this world. I've reflected back on what
I've done in my past and how my education fits
into all of it. I've learned that because I was
in a white-collar school, maybe I don't know how
to connect with non-college-bound students. Does
that make sense? I feel like I want to work in a
school where the majority of students are work-
force bound, but what do I have to offer them?
Shelley: Stephen's left leg
juts a leaden semiarabesque
into the aisle between the desks;
Cheek pressed against the unread text,
he dreams of his future.
Robin: The practicum is terrific. I am comfortable in
front of the class, and I am learning that the
management (getting their attention) is possible.
I really enjoy the banter before and after class
(with the kids) and I enjoy their excitement (it
is contagious). I even enjoy the challenge of
unmotivated students. I think I made the right
Kevin: Today was a good day.
Calvin: I led the class in a choral reading, starting with
me, of a letter written by a convict who submitted
it to their school paper. He wrote the letter to
convince young people not to get involved in
violence and guns. We made it through that okay.
No one felt forced to read and they helped each
other with words that they weren't familiar with.
After the reading, I asked them questions to help
them think about the elements of the letter that
were really persuasive. We talked about his use
of personal experience and his conversational
Jenny: Talk less; listen more.
Calvin: On the same page as the letter from the convict,
there was a poll of students concerning violence
in the schools. "Mr. Dillon, can we read this,
too?" Yeah, right, like I would ever tell a
student not to read something in my class.
Nathalie: Answer less; question more.
Calvin: I asked the students if the newspaper had polled
them. When they said no, we went together through
the poll, which had questions like, "do you know
someone who brings a weapon to school? Do you
know someone who has died because of violence?" I
was shocked at how many of them answered yes to
questions like these, and I told them so.
Jenny: Talk less.
Calvin: Then the discussion became much more animated, and
I didn't interject much at all into the
conversation developing around me. Then they
started to share personal stories about violence
in the school and in their lives.
Calvin: When Amanda told us about her uncle getting shot,
I was paying attention to what she was saying;
then I looked around the room. Up to that point
there had been so many sideline conversations and
notes being passed that I gave up on trying to
control. As Amanda told the story, though, all
the talking stopped, and even the most disruptive
and alienated kids were giving her their complete
Charline: I hope I never stop wanting to do lessons like
Calvin: When she finished, I let everyone experience the
quiet for a minute and then I said something like,
"Listen, guys. Listen how quiet it is. You were
all really listening to her tell her story.
THAT's what you need to do with your letters. Put
as much of yourself and your experiences into your
letters as you can. Then your readers will give
you the kind of attention you just gave Amanda."
Charline: Just sit--and soak in the silence. Take it all
in. Soak it all up.
Calvin: I'd read about teachable moments in Christenbury
and in journal articles, but I never thought I'd
have one myself.
Robin: The practicum is over.
Emily: I didn't think I would like middle school. I
thought the kids would drive me crazy and the
subject matter would really bore me, but I was
Kevin: I really liked the kids, but they wore me out.
And that was with only two classes for only three
weeks. How would I get through a full year with
Robin: I learned more in these three weeks than I have
learned in fifteen hours of education courses.
Charline: Everyone's American dream is different. I could
write volumes and volumes on students and their
differences. They are all so neat and unique. I
am jealous of them--no, not jealous, envious.
Nathalie: I grew up as a Cuban in Miami. During high
school, there was a big division between Cubans
and Americans, but since I looked "American" with
my pale skin and blue eyes, I became an American
Elena: Today some of my students asked me, "What's in
you? What's in you?" I must have had a really
weird look on my face as they waited for my
answer. Finally, one of the girls said (with some
irritation), "You look different. What's in you?"
Ohh! I then rattled off the races that were "in
me." They seemed impressed that such a white girl
could be so unwhite!
Nathalie: My mom laughs at me whenever I want to know about
Cuba. She tells me stories, but Cuba seems so far
away, so ancient and mysterious.
Kevin: "The courage to go inside and see who I am
really"--that does take a lot of courage--it's
dangerous to figure out who you really are--to
admit the faults that you hide from others. And
isn't that what racism attempts to mask in the
first place? Isn't racism used as a tool to make
yourself feel superior to someone else? What a
shallow way to establish self-esteem.
Nathalie: I always picture my family in their beach house,
my grandpa with his moustache and straw hat,
chickens running around the yard. I wish I knew
Cuba, the Cuba Abuelo knew and still loves, the
Cuba that created my mom and Tia.
Kevin: That day in class, when I started talking about
going in myself and started asking my questions
about racism, I heard "uh huh" and "that's good"
and "that's right" softly spoken throughout the
class. I saw a few eyebrows raised in thought. I
paid special attention to the black faces in the
room. I hope that wasn't too noticeable, but I am
concerned with whether I come across as real to
the black students. I am deeply committed to
improving race relations and to improving
communication across racial lines.
Robin: For the Haitian Who Spells Haiti with a Small
Next time you say haitian with a lower case h
like an obscenity, a lash on your back,
Like you have heard it over and over
spit out and spit on
Touch your lips forming the word
And take pride in their fullness and luxury.
I don't love you in spite of your Blackness.
The color of liquid amber, smooth and clear,
means you to me.
I'll admire your skin with mine
and show you the warm glow I love.
I can't overlook your country and love you.
I see your country because I see you--
I hold you tight enough that all you think is
but the newscaster in the background tells
of growing anti-Haitian sentiment,
the new change in policy to match.
I feel you cringe, and wither in my arms.
People who say haitian with bile on their
With hatred in their voices, minds, and
With fists pounding and fear in their
can't see you.
Elena: I remember when I first moved to the U.S.
Elementary school was a nightmare. I'll never
forget those kids pointing and laughing at me and
yelling, "She talks funny! She talks funny!"
Charline: In my writing class, we discussed accents and
dialects and how unfair it is to separate and
judge by them.
Marc: I wanted my students to know that their language
is just as important as Samuel Johnson's. I let
them work in groups to define their own slang,
make their own dictionaries. But my cooperating
teacher had a problem with that. We had to
abandon the project.
Elena: Today I was talking to a friend about how great it
was learning about the Gullah language and that I
can't wait to expose my students to such a rich
heritage. My friend replied, "I don't see what
the big deal is. Who cares about Gullah?" I
almost fell out of my chair.
Marc: We can respect dialects and still teach them what
Jesse Jackson calls "cash language." If we do
both of these, who loses?
Julie: In my classroom, we'll read to each other often,
and we will respect one another's dialects, while
learning why Standard English is important to
Charline: Black English is so rich--these two black women
saw each other on the bus and they apparently
hadn't seen each other in a long time--I could
listen to their lilting, excited tones forever;
they rise and fall, their words tumbling over each
other and an occasional, "Oh, no!" punctuating
Nathalie: In my practicum, when we were talking about
Countee Cullen's poem, "Incident" Shameka said
that it had to be a white person who called Cullen
a "nigger" because only whites say "nigger;"
blacks say "Niggah." Wow! I couldn't believe she
broke that up linguistically.
Marc: A question came to mind during all this. If
blacks were a controversial group in the sixties
concerning civil rights, just as women were a
controversial group during the early part of this
century concerning equal rights, and gays and
lesbians are a controversial group today, what
will be the next oppressed group to emerge?
Emily: Yesterday, we were talking about gay and lesbian
issues in school. I am amazed and disappointed
with how controversial the topic still is.
Elena: I have to read Annie on My Mind! It's a book
about an adolescent lesbian relationship. It
should be interesting. I've never read anything
like that before. Nothing comes close.
Emily: I guess I'm still naive, but I thought the world
was becoming more accepting.
Charline: Disinterested, he turned to the second chapter of
Rubyfruit Jungle and said, "What's the book
"Growing up lesbian in America."
He dropped the book on my desk with a thud.
Emily: Okay, I lied. I am not really that amazed, but I
am disappointed. I was just thinking what if it
was my child who was gay. How would I handle
seeing him or her persecuted and humiliated?
Elena: I'm reading Annie on My Mind. How am I going to
bring these issues into my classroom????
Joe: The "core curriculum" is about as representative
of this country as the majority of its
congressmen. Deplorable. And irresponsible to
allow this problem to perpetuate, as generations
of black and Hispanic and female and lesbian and
gay students filter through it.
Elena: I discovered an article by Marvin Hoffman,
"Teaching Torch Song: Gay Literature in the
Classroom." Marvin Hoffman took a big risk and
lived to tell about it. I plan on using gay
literature in the classroom, and one day I will
have an article published in the English Journal
about my experiences.
Julie: My classroom will be one in which literature by
women and people of all races, nationalities, and
orientations will receive equal treatment. We'll
talk openly about issues raised in texts, and
we'll always be respectful to one another.
Joe: To deprive the classroom of August Wilson's voice
or Sandra Cisneros' or Rita Mae Brown's is a
disservice to all our students.
Charline: Before, I wanted to teach because I thought my
English teachers were cool, but now because I want
all kids to have a chance.
Robin: I want to help students find the mastery that will
allow them to wield the fire, instead of just
Jenny: I love finally being around people with similar
ideas about life, people who appreciate those who
are different from them.
Charline: Everyone's American dream is different.
The NCTE Convention in Orlando
Jenny: I'm at the NCITE Convention in Orlando, sitting on
the floor in the center of the Orange County
Convention Center. The first session that we went
to, I looked behind us and Linda Rief was sitting
there. I knew it was her because everyone has
these big plastic-jacketed name tags on. I
whispered to Shelley that she was behind us, and
Shelley's eyes got really big. We are such
habitual note passers that we wrote her a note,
and she wrote back! Wow!
Charline: We're at the convention. We saw Virginia
Hamilton, Gary Paulsen, Debra Frasier. And I met
Linda Rief, she was great! She said she was glad
to meet us, and I told her I cried all the way
through the elderly chapter.
Kevin: I've loved the workshops where I got to write
something, especially the one with Tom Romano,
Nancy Gorrell, and Linda Rief. Calvin was really
excited to meet Nancy Gorrell after doing his
research project based on her article. I was so
happy for him.
Julie: Tom Romano talked about freewriting, and how
writing on something you love can really drive the
Charline: I got to meet Leila Christenbury, and she's real!
Emily: She signed my book!
Shelley: At 3:30 Sunday, I bought a copy of Clearing the
Way, then concluded that I MUST get it signed.
Jenny thought I was nuts, running all over the
civic center on the chance I might find Tom
Romano. She said,
Jenny: You'll have just as much luck if you sit here and
wait for him to walk by.
Shelley: So I took off running and he walked right by them
where they were waiting for me.
Julie: There he is!
Shelley: So then Calvin tried to hold onto him while
everyone else went to find me. Somehow, I did get
my book signed. He wrote, "Thanks for asking."
And I really think he meant it.
Nathalie: Elena and I went to a session on the Gullah
language. It was wonderful. These people sang
for us and told wonderful stories.
Julie: The exhibit hall was huge! There were tons of
people and lots of great books and stuff to look
Nathalie: Posters galore, free books including I Am the
Jenny: We kept comparing loot, racing around to find each
Nathalie: cheap books, bookmarks, postcards .
Elena: We had PRESERVICE TEACHERS in neon over our heads.
But who cares?
Nathalie: We made out like bandits!
Elena: I loved every minute of it.
Emily: I can't believe I just spoke to Robert Cormier!
Julie: Robert Cormier is a really nice person.
Shelley: The Poetry Alive! folks were singularly wonderful.
I really do want to go on the road with them. I'm
the best memorizer this side of the Mississippi.
Emily: I could spend days in the exhibit hall.
Kevin: I loved getting up in front of that room of people
in the gay\lesbian issues session. I talked about
The Drowning of Stephan Jones. But I admit to
wondering whether or not they thought Calvin and I
were gay. I never talked to him about it. I
guess maybe I didn't want to admit being self-
Charline: Today was wonderful. Kevin, Calvin, and I took
part in the symposium, and I gave a five-minute
synopsis of Rubvfruit Jungle. People liked it, or
at least everyone told me they did.
Julie: I'm so proud of my classmates. I know they must
have been nervous, but you certainly couldn't
tell. I hadn't realized when we talked about it
in class that this was such a cutting edge and
sensitive issue. I think that because our class
is so open, and because we discussed so freely, I
somehow thought other methods classes did the
same. I've learned otherwise.
Charline: I really got a lot from the convention--I learned
about seeing the kids, whoever they are, and
writing with feeling and relevance, connecting
with self and with each other. How passionate I
must remain about all of this teaching stuff.
Elena: I was overwhelmed.
Charline: I felt like a kid in a candy story!
Shelley: We were glowy and star-struck all day.
Charline: The more I learn, the more I realize that I don't
Kevin: I was so glad to just hang out with everyone from
the group. It reminded me of band tours in
college--we always seemed to come back closer
friends when we got to share those kinds of great
emotional experiences together.
Charline: I am so glad I went. This is an experience that I
can never trade or replace, and it makes me
realize that our program is very far ahead of the
game, or at least our teacher is--because we have
been exposed to so much more than a lot of
beginning teachers, I think.
Jenny: One of the things I will remember most about this
convention is meeting Leila Christenbury and how
excited she was to meet us.
Kevin: I've enjoyed reading her book so much this year,
and I really felt like I knew her--and now I can
say I really do.
Nathalie: What a wonderful weekend.
Joe: You could hear a pin drop. They aren't
responding. They aren't discussing. My
enthusiasm is impacting them like a wet tennis
ball. I excuse myself momentarily and beeline
back to my desk. [Joe leaves the group and mimes
the search.] Rummaging, rummaging, scouring,
hunting for--Where is it? The students are
talking among themselves now--confidently. I
continue searching as I feel my body growing warm
and tense. In my panic I try to recall examples
of withitness and overlapping. I thumb through my
filing cabinet like a giant rolodex. I think we're
on wait time 5 or something. It's got to be here,
I couldn't perform without a net. I wouldn't
trust myself to--Here it is! [He "finds" his
handbook.] I clutch it tightly against my chest
like Dumbo's feather and return to the center of
[All students retrieve their handbooks, which have been on
Shelley: As of today, I have read eighty-nine articles
about teaching English. That's about one per day
since the semester began, but I still feel like I
have barely started to learn and absorb.
Joe: I make up my own categories? This assignment
seems too saturated with autonomy.
Emily: I wasn't sure exactly what was supposed to go in
this handbook or what I considered significant, so
anything that I really liked got put in the
handbook pile beside my TV.
Joe: With all the questions I had--excuse me--have
about teaching, I envisioned a handbook rivaling
the Talmud in volume.
Elena: I collected mountains of material this semester,
and sitting down to sift through it was not a one-
hour job. I had to do some soul searching and
decide what was important to me.
Marc: When I began to put the handbook together, I
noticed things could be divided into particular
categories. These also happened to be things I'm
very interested in and concerned about. It would
be foolish to assume this was purely coincidental.
Joe: How can I make a handbook if I don't know what
I'll need it for? (My paranoid logic rears its
ugly head and ends in a preposition, no less.)
Charline: I have assembled something I am calling my
handbook, but doesn't a handbook define the rules,
tell you how to operate something and where to put
all the spare parts? You know, they come with the
appliances and toys in the boxes marked "Some
assembly required." What an awesome task to try
to put everything I learned and need to know into
a book for me to look back on. I could spend a
whole semester on this.--Oh! I just did!
Calvin: I saved everything--things I did in the classroom,
articles I read and loved, poems, and bits and
pieces of my life as it has become these past few
weeks. It's amazing to me how quickly the doors
to my future have opened.
Joe: I obsessed and worried privately about this
handbook until the day I heard that watch-cry--
negative capability, which for me, would ride
shotgun with carpe diem. I had been nervous that
the handbook would not reach "irritable fact."
Then I realized that it didn't have to.
Emily: Instead of searching for the perfect article, I
looked for ones that had a few things in them that
I really felt passionate about.
Julie: This handbook contains articles and materials by
teachers whose ideas, convictions, values, and
leadership I admire. These are teachers who
aren't afraid to venture out and try something new
to engage their students, teachers who are
constantly reflecting on their teaching
Calvin: Nancy Gorrell is in here. I made a philosophical
and literal connection with her about poetry. I
don't want to lose touch with her or her thoughts
Julie: My handbook also contains poems that I have
discovered during the last three months. Most of
them are for and about young people. I learned so
much about poetry this semester. I learned that I
can write poetry--and so can my students.
Emily: The poetry-and-other-writings section is really
for my own enjoyment. Some of the poems were
handed out in class, some I photocopied from
friends and classmates, and the rest I found in
various places. The Jim Hall poems are my
favorites. I can't wait to read them to a class
of my own one day.
Shelley: The thirty-eight articles that made it into this
handbook are those I feel consciously better for
having read, those which gave me insight, hope,
enlightenment, smiles, great ideas.
Elena: This handbook gave me an opportunity to organize
Marc: I've learned a lot this semester about how to
respond to writing, and in turn how to inspire
people to write more. So I have made a whole
section: "Inspire Your Students to Write."
Calvin: My house is full of piles and boxes and folders of
the things that have given me -,,iEini and
experience this semester, so I didn't really have
to hunt for things to put in the handbook. The
hard part was taking things out.
Marc: I have another section called, "A funny thing
happened when we began writing." It includes some
of the writing prompts we used in class. Most of
us began the semester much in the same mindset as
high school students, writing what we thought
teachers wanted. These prompts helped break me
out of that pattern.
Shelley: Much of my impetus for doing such exhaustive
reading was a fear that came early on when I felt
very little passion for anything I was reading,
and I got scared that I was never going to find
anything to put in here. Because I really needed
it to mean something. I have done enough
meaningless schoolwork in my life.
Nathalie: At first, I photocopied any English Journal
article about specific pieces of writing. I had
an assumption that I was going to teach the same
books, the same short stories, the same poems as
my high school English teachers. Teaching for me
was the instruction of one canonized book every
Emily: At one point, my entire living room was covered
with little piles of paper.
Nathalie: So, I photocopied articles about Great
Expectations, Hamlet, Of Mice and Men, and
Romantic literature. Finally, I have kept only a
few of these articles in my handbook.
Emily: I have a whole group of articles that deal with
Standard English. When is it necessary? When is
the student's "home language" appropriate? These
articles support the idea that there is room in
the classroom and in the "real world" for both.
I've collected these articles because I am aware
that I am guilty of being a language cop. I know
that I am not completely cured, and I want to have
plenty of medicine on hand when I have a relapse.
Nathalie: Anne asked us to bring in annotated articles about
film, whole language, or anything else that
interested us. Through these readings, I began to
change my image of teaching.
Marc: One thing this handbook will do for me is help me
remember a truly unique learning experience--a
class that became an encouraging and supportive
learning environment. We were allowed into the
workings of the class, and the schedule was
constantly open for changes in direction.
Julie: My handbook represents a semester that has been
the best learning experience of my life. I know
now the kind of teacher I want to be. And if I
should find myself losing my way, I'll have my
handbook to look to for guidance and inspiration.
Nathalie: One can construct my personality from the things I
have chosen. Someone who doesn't know me could
wonder who I am, this person who likes Prufrock,
Allende, and Wordsworth who finds articles
on multiculturalism and also on fantasy.
Kevin: This EJ cover captures my semester: riding my bike
to class, late--with all the excuses for my
problems with punctuality stacked upon my
shoulders: "I was trying to be an artist;" "I was
trying to be an actor;" "I was trying to be a
musician;" "I was trying to be a dancer;" "I was
trying to be an acrobat;" "I was trying to be a
writer;" "I was trying to be a juggler." Roll all
those things together, and I think what I'm trying
to be is a teacher.
Elena: Some of my discoveries are incomplete, but I
haven't given up searching. Some of my questions
and wonderings will have to be found in my own
Charline: I feel like this handbook is still growing inside
my head and my soul, my fingers are itching to
keep it and keep working.
Calvin: This handbook is me becoming a human being, and me
becoming a teacher, and me becoming a person who
now has friends and memories that he will treasure
for the rest of his life. I am exhausted.
The End of the Semester
Charline: Lots to think about, lots to ponder, lots to
Kevin: It feels really good to know that I'm close to
becoming a teacher.
Shelley: I breathe better these last few months, having
remembered how liberating it is for me to read and
write poetry--cable TV be damned.
Marc: I have done more writing for myself this semester
than I have done in the last four years.
Jenny: I realize I am just beginning to add writing to my
Emily: I have confidence in myself.
Robin: I am sure I am in the right profession.
Charline: "Spot possibilities." That's our job.
Calvin: More and more, I believe this is the key--
listening. Hearing what kids want and need to
Marc: We mustn't be afraid to learn from our students.
Charline: As long as I can remember, I have felt that I had
to have a specific reason for learning. I was
always the one to ask so many questions about why
we had to do things a certain way, or "What will
this teach me?" But I was never given the freedom
to truly explore the possibilities of learning--
until this semester, when I was given guidelines
for beginning the process of learning about
teaching, and then told to "GO!" It has been
Julie: I've neglected personal writing for several years,
and I am thrilled to have been in a learning
environment that encouraged us to explore creative
and personal writing. I have learned a lot about
my strengths and weaknesses as a writer, but I've
also learned that I have an inner voice that wants
and needs to express itself.
Joe: I still have a lot of apprehension about teaching
writing. There are still lots of unanswered
questions, as there should be, but what I've come
to decide is that students take great personal
risks when they write, so those risks should be
respected. Every student's paper has worth, and
it's a teacher's responsibility to find that
worth, not bury it under red ink. The key aspect
of evaluation is the root word--"value."
Charline: When I wrote my piece about teaching students to
read, I didn't need to use a lot of professional
buzzwords, and the writing seemed to come to me
easily. Anne said that must be because I have
internalized how I want to teach my students to
read. I think she's right. I can't wait to get
Nathalie: I really want to start teaching. I don't want to
wait any longer.
Emily: I'm sure now that this is for me.
Robin: Despite the frustration, the moments of triumph
(of breaking through and seeing light) were worth
Shelley: I feel like I'm heading open-eyed into a
difficult, patience-testing, and amazingly complex
future that may frustrate and exasperate me
immensely; and it's the absolute right place for
me to be.
Kevin: I want to remember why I am choosing to teach
instead of being a journalist. What I didn't get
very often in journalism was dialogue. When I
tell a powerful story, I want to hear what other
people think about it, hear what it makes them
feel. There's no better place for these types of
passionate conversations to occur than in a
Elena: I want to remember the voices of my peers as we
worried and dreamed about our futures. I want to
remember Anne's comforting words that eased our
fears and furthered our goals.
Jenny: I want to remind myself that in my classroom, I
need to try things that feel right to me. They
may take off, they may not, but I need to have the
courage to try things.
Charline: "I choose to risk my significance." I love that
line. It just expresses my life right now.
Kevin: I am going to be a damn good teacher.
Robin: I am exhilarated and proud.
Julie: I have been on a quest this semester to find the
teacher in me. There's still a lot to learn and
discover, but I am well on my way; I'm ready to
begin the journey.
Nathalie: I have grown so much during this semester. My
attitudes have changed, my thinking has changed,
and my life has changed. I want to become a
teacher. Before, I thought I would like to be a
teacher. Now I want a classroom and I want
Calvin: I feel a sense of possibility that I have never
really felt before.
Shelley: I am an idealistic fool, and I will work to stay
Robin: The weird teacher down the hall. It was Anne, and
now it is me--guided by my own principles that she
helped me to articulate--another of her students,
out to change the world.
Charline: Do you ever feel like you are creating--history?
Reflections on the Script
It is too soon to know if the twelve students
represented in this script will retain their passion, their
commitment, and their confidence. It is not within the
scope of this study to claim that three years from
graduation they will be teaching in accordance with what
they learned at the university. The purpose of this study
is not to arrive at certainty on these issues, but rather to
raise questions, stimulate imagination, and generate
possibilities. The purpose of this study is, in part, what
the novelist James Baldwin offered as the purpose of art:
"to lay bare the questions which have been hidden by the
answers" (qtd. in Winterson, 13).
John Goodlad's study of teacher education programs
leads him to call them "disturbingly alike and almost
uniformly inadequate" (qtd. in Shor 1987, 7). He laments
that "this nation cannot continue to afford the brief,
casual, conforming preparation now experienced by those who
will staff its classrooms." He calls for experimentation
and risk: "We will only begin to get evidence of the
potential power of pedagogy when we dare to risk and support
markedly deviant classroom procedures" (qtd. in Shor 1987,
7). Goodlad's challenge seems consistent with the call to
get beneath the taken-for-granted "answers" that
characterize most teacher education programs and to "lay
bare the questions" that will allow us to re-imagine and
For me, the overarching question that arises from this
script and from this experience is, "What generated this
passion? What stimulated the strong sense of personal
involvement and commitment that these students expressed?"
If I were to join a discussion of this question, I would
suggest that a sense of wholeness, a kind of unity in the
experience was important. The personal/academic dichotomy
collapsed. When students kept a journal, it was a journal
"of your life," rather than simply "of your classroom and
academic experiences." In the classroom, in addition to
intellectual and pedagogical concerns, discussions centered
on the personal dimensions of becoming a teacher--emotional
responses; how to deal with stress; strategies for
interpersonal communications; practical problem solving.
All assignments for the class asked that students engage as
individual human beings with whatever subject matter was
before them; "productive idiosyncracy" (Eisner 1991, 79) was
respected and celebrated; a high degree of autonomy was
required. Students themselves, as the class began to bond,
decided to meet at a pub once a week; there, in informal
conversation, they brought their whole lives into a
community originally based only on their choice of
profession and the accident of section placement. The
merging of their personal and professional/academic lives
generated a unified experience. Unity is one of the
primary characteristics that Dewey ascribes to aesthetic
experience. Unity, he says, is what makes the difference
between ordinary experience and an experience.
The most elaborate philosophic or scientific
inquiry and the most ambitious industrial or
political enterprise has, when its different
ingredients constitute an integral experience,
esthetic quality. For then its varied parts are
linked to one another, and do not merely succeed
one another. (1934, 55)
It is my speculation that esthetic experience, the
experience of wholeness, assists the process of
internalizing knowledge. Dewey makes the same point:
[T]he things which we have most completely made a
part of ourselves, that we have assimilated to
compose our personality and not merely retained as
incidents, cease to have a separate conscious
existence. (1934, 71)
Caine and Caine's review of brain research leads them
to call for a sort of wholeness that results from
"orchestrated immersion" (1991, 107).
The thrust of orchestrated immersion,
specifically, is to take information off the page
and the blackboard and bring it to life in the
minds of students. Immersion focuses on how
students are exposed to content. When wholeness
and interconnectedness cannot be avoided, students
are obliged to employ their locale memory system
in the exploration of content. (1991, 107)
Part of the wholeness that characterizes an esthetic
experience derives from the implosion of the thinking-
feeling/emotional-intellectual dichotomy. The very
admission of "poetry and passion" into the academic arena
represents a denial of that dichotomy. One of the "markedly
deviant classroom procedures" (Goodlad, qtd. in Shor 1987,
7) of the methods class represented in the script was the
inclusion of poetry as a way of knowing and representing
Implications for Future Research
Virginia Koehler pointed out in 1985, and it remains
true, that very few studies have investigated the specific
strategies of teacher educators. Koehler's discussion of
implications for future research includes the observation
that "descriptions of what is actually going on in teacher
education classes are rare" (27). This script offers one
such "description." We need, however, to broaden
possibilities for the term "description," which, in
educational research, has traditionally referred to a
completely literal, linear reporting of observable events.
If we respond to Eisner's challenge to "make public the
ineffable" (1979, 200), will need a more diverse range of
strategies for describing. Evocative representations,
borrowing strategies from the arts, have a greater power
than traditional reports to include "description" of events
which are internal and not directly observable.
I would invite more descriptions of the teacher
education experience, in a variety of forms, written both by
"insiders," as is the case here, and by "outsiders," as has
traditionally been the case in educational research. Our
knowledge will grow by accretion, richer and more complex,
stimulating dialogue and generating new visions of
possibility. According to Eisner, in qualitative research
the growth of knowledge is "more horizontal than vertical."
[T]he idea that knowledge accumulates suggests
that knowledge is an inert material that one can
collect, store, and stockpile. To regard
knowledge as inert is to reify it. Knowledge is
not an inert material discovered through research,
it is a functioning aspect of human cognition, a
resource that lives in the biographies, thoughts,
and actions of individuals. (1991, 210)
In addition to representations of the teacher education
experience, we need longitudinal studies that inform us
about what happens after the moment of "description."
Without longitudinal work, we will never be able to move
beyond speculation about what makes teacher education
EVOCATIVE REPRESENTATIONS: THE SECOND EXEMPLAR
In the semester following the methods class of "Poetry
and Passion in Teacher Education," I was assigned
supervision of the internships of several students from the
methods class. I decided I would like to follow the growth
of the student who seemed to have made the furthest journey.
What would happen to Calvin? What shape would his growth
take? Or would that growth wither in the realities of a
But there was something more specific I wanted to
watch, too. Calvin's artistic inclinations became clear to
me very early, when I first assigned the writing of a poem.
His initial draft was characterized by evocative detail.
When revisions of first drafts were due, he turned in three
poems, each a significantly different version of the initial
one. Each of his revisions had its own shape, its own
linguistic variations, and its own slightly different
intent. It was clear that Calvin understood "re-seeing" in
an artist's way and understood form as a critical part of
content. Throughout the semester, my sense of Calvin-as-
artist was confirmed as I saw him taking creative risks,
shaping language and experience, honoring both rationality
and intuition, and reinventing himself.
Now, I wanted to see how Calvin's artistic sensibility
would play itself out in the classroom--or if it would.
During his internship, Calvin worked with ninth
graders. In addition to "regular" classes of English, he
would work with a two-period English block that was part of
a special program for students preparing to enter the health
professions. Many of the students in this program were
disaffected and considered "at risk." Many had been
counseled into the program and were there without
enthusiasm. They were particularly without enthusiasm for
their English block, which met twice a week, on Tuesdays and
When Calvin agreed to be a participant in this study, I
asked him to choose which class I would observe on a regular
basis. He chose the seventh period "regular" class. At
that point, he had only observed and assisted. He had not
actually assumed teaching responsibilities, but he had seen
enough to know that the seventh period class would be a
challenge for him in terms of management. I saw his
willingness to invite me into a class where he anticipated
difficulties as, itself, a demonstration of creative risk-
taking. Later, he would also invite me to visit the fourth-
and fifth-period block.
Unlike the study of the methods class, this study was
planned as a study in advance. I began with a very broad
question: What will I see in Calvin's work that will inform
me about the growth of teacher knowledge? This was the
question that I shared with him when we talked about the
project. There was another question, a little more focused,
that I did not share: Will I see anything in Calvin's work
that reflects his artistic inclinations and understandings?
I left this question unspoken, not wanting to pressure or
predispose him to "be an artist" in his work.
I observed the seventh period class almost every day
during the nine-week internship. Using a laptop computer, I
made detailed field observations. I quickly became aware
than my training as a writer was assisting the process. I
had been trained to see and record particularity, to be
aware of multiple events occurring simultaneously, to
include a range of sensory detail in description, and to
make quick intuitive judgments about relevance. I had never
done this sort of data gathering for research before, but I
felt like I'd been doing it all my life. As a back-up, I
used audiotape to record class sessions and later used the
tapes to fill gaps in the notes. The result was a highly
detailed narrative record.
Calvin and I had agreed that we would do three
interviews--two during the process and one at the conclusion
of the internship. The first interview was conducted by
phone and tape recorded. But then, something that wasn't in
the original plan began to happen. Calvin liked to talk
about his experiences. He began calling me every day to
talk about what happened in class. With his consent, I
recorded our conversations. If he called at a time when I
wasn't home, he would sometimes leave an extended message on
the answering machine. I transcribed the tapes of our
conversations and the messages from the answering machine.
They became significant field texts.
My initial concern grew out of the fact that I was
Calvin's internship supervisor, responsible for evaluating
his performance. What kind of pressure would he feel when I
made the request to involve him in a research project?
Would he feel he couldn't say no? I grappled with this
question for several weeks. Finally, I decided to trust the
open nature of the relationship I had established with
members of the methods class and the extent to which I had
always encouraged them to question me, to disagree, and to
thoughtfully decline my advice. I thought I could trust
Calvin to tell me if he really didn't want to do this.
Beyond the initial concern, I wondered: if Calvin did
consent to participate, would my ongoing presence in his
internship classroom (as opposed to the occasional
supervisory visit) add additional stress to his already
inherently stressful position?
When I did propose the project, I talked openly with
Calvin about my concerns. He acknowledged that they were
valid concerns, that it did make him a little nervous to
think about my being there on a regular basis. He wanted to
think about it. He would let me know in a few days.
Later, when observations were well underway and we were
talking on the phone almost every night, I felt the pressure
of another ethical consideration. As a researcher, I wanted
to be primarily a nonintervening listener. As a supervisor,
I wanted to offer feedback, make analyses and suggestions.
Was it appropriate--was it ethical--to withhold feedback
that I thought might be useful to him? I thought not. And
yet, it was true that if I were only his supervisor, we
would not be talking on the phone every night. To withhold
feedback on these occasions would not be to withhold
something he would have had if I had been his supervisor
only and not a researcher; it was something he wouldn't have
had anyway. Still, it didn't seem right.
Ultimately, this became my stance: I would be
primarily a listener. Listening was, I realized, central to
the way I worked as a supervisor, too. "Yes," I would say.
"Really?" "Why do you think that happened?" "Tell me more
about that." Usually, if Calvin was trying to sort out a
problem, all he needed to do was keep talking; he would sort
it out for himself. Occasionally, however, when he would
find himself mired or going in circles, he would arrive at a
point at which he would be direct: "I need some help with
this." Or, "I'm stuck. I really don't know what to do."
When that happened, I stopped being a researcher and became
When the research was concluded and I had constructed
the report which follows, still another ethical issue
surfaced. I printed out a copy of "Saturated with Poetry:
First Draft of a Teacher," held it in my hands, and had an
anxiety attack. There on the title page was my name. Under
the title page were over eighty pages of Calvin's words,
Calvin's experience. What was my name doing on this report?
It didn't belong to me. But how could it not belong to me?
I had spent months of my life observing, listening,
recording, transcribing, domaining, drafting, shaping,
reshaping. "Whose is this?" I asked myself.
Ultimately, I arrived at the logical conclusion that it
was ours. If it hadn't been for Calvin and his willingness
to be engaged, the report would not have existed. If it
hadn't been for me and my engagement, it would not have
existed. It was ours. This is not the traditional research
position. Traditionally, researchers have taken their data,
changed the names, and called it theirs. I have departed
from that tradition. In this report, Calvin's name has not
been changed. In January of 1996, at the International
Conference on Qualitative Research, we appeared on the
program as co-presenters of "Saturated with Poetry: First
Draft of a Teacher."
The Purposes of the Study
As is usually the case in a qualitative study, the
originally defined purpose of the study modified as work
progressed. The original broad concerns soon narrowed to a
double focus and to dual purposes: (a) to understand the
dynamics and effects of Calvin's idiosyncratic approaches to
teaching poetry and (b) to see how his way of being in the
classroom might reflect the concept of teacher as artist.
The purpose of this evocative representation is to
bring the reader vicariously into the dynamics of Calvin's
classroom, to generate understanding through vicarious
Construction of the Evocative Text
"The major problem we face in qualitative inquiry,"
writes Harry Wolcott, "is not to get data, but to get rid of
it!" (1990, 18). As I worked on this text, I remembered
Wolcott's statement and also Michaelangelo's famous
assertion that he would take a block of marble and chip away
everything that was not David. I had reams of data. From
that shapeless mass, I had to construct something.
As in the construction of the reader's theater script,
I had a sense of making a found poem on a large scale. I
wasn't actually writing new material. I was juxtaposing
existing text in ways designed to suggest tensions, thematic
concerns, and dynamic relations. The resulting narrative
denies chronology as a governing structure and employs a
quasi-stanzaic form. It uses ellipses and white space as
methods of incorporating silence and of generating a sense
of duration. It often makes leaps rather than transitions.
In short, it is a narrative that borrows heavily from poetic
SATURATED WITH POETRY: FIRST DRAFT OF A TEACHER
Almost every day in his class, there was poetry. They
never really "studied" poetry in the sense that English
teachers usually mean when they talk about studying poetry.
There was no extensive talk about the poets or their time
periods or historical contexts; there were no line-by-line
analyses of poems; there were no catalogs of literary terms
systematically applied--alliteration, assonance, scansion,
symbolism--though a basic vocabulary (simile, metaphor,
rhythm, rhyme) sometimes, casually, occurred. There were no
tests of knowledge about poetry. But almost every day,
there was poetry.
The life of the classroom was saturated with poetry.
More specifically, the life of the classroom was saturated
with poems--poems read aloud by the teacher, poems read
aloud by the students, poems found in books and magazines,
poems written by the class together, poems written by
students individually, poems written by the teacher.
Poems became the focus of play and the instruments of
"real work." From the teacher's point of view, poems became
a way to engage the disengaged, to connect students with
canonical literature, to secure attention; a way to teach
grammar and vocabulary, a way to approach writing, a way to
develop reading skills. From the students' point of view,
poems became a way of connecting with themselves and each
other, a way of connecting their school lives and their
personal lives, and a way of expressing intensity. For both
teacher and students, saturation led to transformation. How
did this happen? Why did it happen? What does this
Calvin did not set out to create a poetry-dense
environment, did not even have a concept of that; he hardly
had a concept of himself teaching. That was his
transformation. He entered the internship classroom unsure
of who he would be as a teacher, unsure that he could be a
teacher. He left the internship knowing who he was, what he
wanted to do, and that he was powerful.
Let's go back to the beginning.
At the first of the fall semester, Calvin was quiet,
kept to the fringes of his methods class. His first
attempts at micro teaching were awkward. He wrote about it
in his journal:
I dunno. What the hell am I going to do if I can't
fucking stand in front of a group of people without
sounding like a babbling, mumbling reject from a bad
Woody Allen movie? Everybody looks so confused! If I
can't form a coherent thought or explain what I mean to
a bunch of grad students, how can I possibly hope to
make any kind of a connection with high schoolers?
Calvin was still stumbling around a bit during his practicum
teaching experience. (Jenny was his practicum partner.)
I don't know what happened today. I try to be
sensitive and give them one on one help, but the
writing prompt just flopped. It really sounded good on
paper in that book--"Write about a time when your
expectations weren't met"--I thought it sounded open
enough that they could be thoughtful and have fun. I
gave them a web to use but told them they didn't have
to use it. But the kids were bored and I had a hard
time keeping them on task.
When we got in the car I was whining to Jenny about
what a shitty job I did so she would tell me I did
okay, but then she turned it around on me: "I think
you need to ask yourself why you want to be a teacher,
I didn't really have an answer so I said something
sarcastic like how I hate canned topics like that in
questions because they sound like boring writing
prompts. But as I sat in class later chewing the cud
of the day's events, I kept coming back to that
question. So much of my life up to this point has been
carried out under the philosophy of "I don't know" and
"Well, it seemed like the right thing to do at the
time, but and I realized that I really have no
idea why I want to teach. That scares me.
By the time Calvin entered his internship classroom, he
did have some sense of why he wanted to teach and of how he
wanted to teach. He had achieved an enabling level of
confidence and was eager for a larger teaching experience.
"Still," he said, "there's so much I don't know."
But he knew a lot. He knew more than he knew.
In the Classroom
Mr. Dillon goes to the front of the room. He has a printed
page in his hand. Without introduction, he begins to read
the Spiderman poem, Jim Hall's "Maybe Dat's Your Pwoblem,
Too". He reads in an animated way, moving back and forth in
front of the room, pausing at certain moments in the poem to
gesture. Students are watching, following him with their
eyes. They snicker; then one person laughs.
Mr. Dillon: Go ahead and laugh; this is a funny poem.
Given permission, students laugh. He continues reading,
shakes his head, makes sucker cups with his fingers, "and
then I go fwying like cwazy, acwoss de town, fwom woof top
to woof top." Students laugh often.
About half way through the poem, he lowers the paper,
continues to recite by heart, loses his place momentarily,
goes back to reading from the page. Students are following
him with their eyes, laughing frequently, some of them
looking a little puzzled.
He finishes reading: "Maybe dats your pwoblem, too. Who
knows? Maybe dats de whole pwoblem wif evwybody. Nobody
can boin dey suits. Dey all fwame wesistant." Laughter.
Mr. Dillon: I'm sorry, I just felt silly and I wanted to
read that to you guys. It's up here if any of you want it.
He places copies of the poem on the front desk, heads for
the back of the room. Marcus goes immediately and gets a
copy of the poem. Leroy mutters "fwame wesistant" and
laughs to himself.
Ms. Scott who was sitting in a back desk, is standing now,
collecting papers. Students begin talking among themselves.
Intermittently, the phrase "fwame wesistant" rises in
different voices from different parts of the room.
One student asks another: Where's that poem?
Another student answers: Up there.
Mr. Dillon is conferring with Marcus, Tamora, and Harley,
who are looking at a copy of the poem, asking questions
about the pronunciation of words. He asks them, "Did you
look at the poem? That's how he wrote it down. That's why
I read it that way." Harley asks Mr. Dillon to "say 'fwame
wesistant' again." He says it again.
As Mr. Dillon is setting up the overhead projector, students
are shuffling papers, finding what they need for the
upcoming activity; they talk. A voice: "all fwame
wesistant. All our suits are fwame wesistant. Maybe dats
On the Telephone
In fourth period, I wrote the agenda on the board, and the
first thing I did, I waited for a moment when it was almost
quiet, and I started reading "Maybe Dat's Your Pwoblem,
Too," and I read it just like I read it to [my son] Joe,
with all the inflection and everything, and just walked
around the room, around all the tables, and looked up every
once in a while 'cause I do have most of it memorized. And
they got completely quiet. As quiet as probably they've
ever been except when they're listening to each other. And
then I had them get in their groups.
When they came back from their break, I asked if they wanted
me to read another poem. [Student voice]: "Yeah." And then
[a touch of amazement in his voice] they all got quiet. I
didn't have to wait. It wasn't like passing out the drills:
"Okay guys, put your stuff away. Put your stuff away. I
want it quiet, and I'm not gonna do it until you're quiet.
C'mon. Everybody. Len, this means you, too. At least put
your notebook away."
[Still sounding amazed]: You want me to read another poem?
[Student voice]: Yeah.
So I read "Preposterous." And Mike watched me the whole
In the Classroom
Mr. Dillon: Guys, take a seat. I want to read you
something. [He goes to the board, writes: "The Bleeder."]
Guys, sit down. [He gestures with both hands, indicates
"sit down." Students sit, but they continue to stir,
He begins to read: "By now, I bet he's dead. ."
Students settle quickly when he begins to read. As he
reads, he walks across the front of the room and then
between rows. "The slightest bruise and all his blood would
simply bleed away."
Sophie waves her water bottle; it sloshes.
Students laugh at "sharp stick."
When he reaches "a sense of being bad together," there is
absolute silence in the room.
On the Telephone
And then I came back up, and they were starting to get loud,
so I pulled out Back to Class. And I didn't really have to
do that much. I just sat down on the desk and held up the
book, and about half the class looked at me. And then I
just started explaining what the book was, and they got
quiet. And then they listened to two of the poems.
They like to listen to me read. And the times that I have
read things to them, it has been things that they have found
It was kinda the same thing I did with fourth period. You
know, I was trying to get them to be quiet after the break.
I was doing all my, you know, let's lean up against the desk
and bat my eyes, try to make eye contact with people that
are talking. That didn't work. So I put my hands up and
said quietly, "Okay, quiet guys. Let's settle down so we
can finish reading this." That didn't work. So finally, I
just picked up right where I left off, started pacing and
reading again. And then they got quiet, telling each other
to shut up.
On the Telephone
I had never seen myself as that good a reader. But reading
the poems out loud in class and seeing the effect that it
had on the kids made me decide I wanted to keep doing that.
I found that it's one of the most effective ways to get kids
quiet. Stand up there with something in my hand and just
start reading. Cause then they do it. I don't have to say,
"Be quiet." There are shut-ups and shhhh all over the room.
Why did you decide to read "The Bleeder?"
Mr. Dillon: I wasn't comfortable enough that the kids were
understanding what exactly the Beast was in Lord of the
Flies. When they were generating questions in their groups,
they were still very specific: "What is the Beast?" And
their answer would be "a snake-like thing." I didn't want
them to get the impression that that's what the Beast was.
Because it's not, for me. And it wasn't for the boys in the
book. There's the quote at the end where Ralph is saying
"The Beast is us; the beast is in all of us." So I wanted
to explore that theme without me having to tell them that
that's what the Beast is.
It was an opportunity to use a poem I liked, to talk
about something I felt they would want to talk about. And
it seemed to naturally fit in with what I was doing.
Do you remember how you realized that? How did you make the
Mr. Dillon: Between "The Bleeder" and The Lord of the
Flies? Well, Ms. Scott and I talked before we started Lord
of the Flies about what we thought the main themes of the
book would be and how it would apply to these kids, where
they might make connections, what the book would have to say
to them. And we basically decided on organization and evil.
And I felt that through the prereading activities and
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