- Editors’ Introduction:The Teaching Self
Think of the narratives of teaching with which you are most familiar—memoirs like Jay Parini's The Art of Teaching, reviewed in this issue, or Jane Tompkins's A Life in School: What the Teacher Learned, and especially movies, like Mona Lisa Smile or Dead Poets Society. Who is the teacher in these narratives? In what ways is he or she us? Others have critiqued narratives such as these (see especially Brunner 1994 and Bauer 1998), and it is not our intention to rehearse those arguments here. We would, however, invite you to examine the metaphors for teaching—and especially for teacher identity—that narratives such as these promote, particularly in light of the provocations to reflect on our identities as teachers offered in this issue.
In Professing and Pedagogy: Learning the Teaching of English (reviewed in this issue), Shari Stenberg (2005: 71) focuses on one metaphor for the teacher that permeates the genre: teacher as hero. Stenberg claims that
the pedagogy argued for and the pedagogy of the argument of the teacher narratives we typically celebrate in both scholarly and popular cultural realms tend not to serve as a site for investigation into one's own teacher learning, but as a way to redeem teaching as a heroic practice and the teacher as a hero. They do not depict the teacher as struggling. . . . Any moments of messiness are to be cleaned up and polished by the story's end. The teacher is expected to discover or return to a unified and authoritative position—to show him- or herself as finally "trained" or "oriented." These narratives ultimately lead to closure, presenting the teacher as [End Page 1] the victor—as finally finished learning or "training"—with the students benefiting from the teacher's decisiveness and rigor.
In this metaphor, the teacher is seen as complete, after having undergone a period of "training" or apprenticeship and after finally "owning" the material—the knowledge or methods of the field. Stenberg argues that such metaphors for teaching (and others like it, such as the pervasive metaphor of teacher as scholar) rely on a view of teacher development that focuses "primarily on consumption, whether that means acquiring a set of practices or a body of theory" (54). In other words, the development part stops presumably some time in graduate school once the new teacher has consumed enough theory—pedagogical or literary—or at least enough nuts-and-bolts "what works" skills to command the authority and identity of teacher.
Kristine Johnson's commentary in this issue complements Stenberg's exploration of teacher development. In "The Millennial Teacher: Metaphors for a New Generation," Johnson, a new graduate teaching assistant, tries on her own metaphors for teacher identity (teacher as cultural critic, teacher as midwife, and teacher as resource) within the larger context of a generational shift that places her within the same cultural moment as the students she is teaching. The narrative interrogates her first year of teaching, using composition theory in particular to reflect on the identities she experimented with—and rejected, in some cases. She frames her exploration in terms of effect and identity:
When I look back at my first year, I think about the effect I had on my students, the clarity of my assignments, and the few awkward silences during class discussions. All in all, I think my first year teaching went unexpectedly well—contrary to my summer nightmares in which I had to teach medieval British literature to a classroom full of middle-aged men. I taught two sections of Introductory Composition and managed to reach my (admittedly nonacademic) goals for the year: I did not lose my sense of humor; my students did not openly disrespect me even though I was, at most, four years older than they were; and I avoided what I would consider any major public disasters. At the same time, I was eager to find my identity as a teacher and eager to have a purpose beyond survival; I knew I loved teaching, and I wanted to do it well. But learning techniques to sustain class discussions and guide peer-review sessions...