Goodson’s Storying the Self: Life Politics and the Study of the Teacher’s Life and Work a Reader Response by Ashley Law for EDU 6460 Curriculum Culture and Language

Goodson’s Storying the Self: Life Politics and the Study of the Teacher’s Life and Work a Reader Response by Ashley Law for EDU 6460 Curriculum Culture and Language

In Storying the Self: Life Politics and the Study of the Teacher’s Life and Work, Ivor Goodson contends that the postmodern restructuring of institutional life has resulted in changing in “forms of knowledge.” Amidst this restructuring, the process of defining the identity of the “self” is being challenged. Through this definition of the self and of lived experiences, the new social aspects of postmodernity can be explored.

Following an explanation on the changing conceptions of the “self,” Goodson goes on to examine the ways in which the life histories of teachers can shed light on the restructuring and reforming of schooling that is currently underway. While schooling is becoming increasingly prescriptive at the hands of politicians, the teacher’s work in becoming more technical in that teachers are becoming the messengers of curriculum rather than its creators. In light of this mechanization of the teaching profession, it is important to give teachers a voice so that the effects of these reforms can be exposed.

As a new teacher in Ontario, I have become immediately familiarized with this modern technical form of teaching. During my second practicum placement, I was assigned to teach a Grade 10 applied English course. My placement occurred as the preparations for the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test was taking place. This is a provincial standardized test in which student must complete multiple choice, short answer, and essay questions. Students must pass this test, which requires at least a 75% grade value, in order to graduate from high school in Ontario. I would estimate that at least half of the lessons that I “delivered” were prescriptive in that they helped students to become successful on this test. I was, without a doubt, “teaching to the test.” My associate teacher handed me a binder that had been prepared by the Ministry of Education and told me to choose at least one lesson a day to deliver to the Grade 10s. I felt like I did not have control over the curriculum because absolutely, I did not.

Reading Goodson’s article has made me reflect on these experiences and the ways in which they diminished my role as a teacher. I became a teacher because I wanted to share my passion for the subject matter. As Goodson points out, many teachers choose this profession because they want meaning in their lives (p.16). If teachers are being reduced to mere messengers who have no control over the curriculum they deliver, what effects will that have on their identity as an educator and thus their ability to educate? In my opinion, finding meaning in one’s life as an educator requires understanding the needs of your students and shaping the curriculum to meet those needs. Moulding the curriculum to spark interest and understanding of subject matter while meeting Ministry expectations is, from my point of view, an important aspect of teaching. This allows teachers to have ownership of their practice and thus provides them with meaning in their lives as an educator.

While thinking about the crippling effects that standardization and accountability has on the teacher’s control over the curriculum, there is another side to this coin. True, the Ministry of Education has mapped the expectations of each course and each grade level, the teacher does have some freedom over the delivery of the curriculum. For instance, as an English teacher, I have the ability to choose which novel I choose for a unit of study or how I want to deliver that unit. I can design my own tests, my own formative and summative assessments. I have the freedom to choose so long as the Ministry expectations are being met and the students are successful in achieving the provincial standards through my unit of study. My career can still be fulfilling and meaningful in postmodern times as long as I bend the “political prescriptions” to fit my own needs as well as the needs of my students.

What, then, would be the purpose of “storying the self” as a teacher? As Goodson states, “stories do social and political work as they are told… They may accept political and social priorities without comment, or they may challenge those priorities” (p. 12). Petra Munro echoes this sentiment by stating that “the use of language – the myths, metaphors and imagination – in the way that individuals construct self is a political act” (p. 5). Through telling life stories, teachers can challenge their mechanical or technical roles by exposing triumphs over “prescription.” Teachers can gain an element of control over curriculum if they claim it as their own in their stories while shedding the cloak of invisibility in the reformed structure of schooling. Teachers must voice their role in schooling so that they can be considered as partners instead of mere messengers. Language can be used as a tool to communicate the meanings, challenges, and triumphs that teachers experience in their everyday working lives.

Works Cited

Goodson, I. F. (1998). Storying the Self: Life Politics and the Study of the Teacher’s Life and Work. In William F. Pinar (Ed.), Curriculum Toward New Identities. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc.

Munro, P. (1998). Subject to Fiction: Women Teachers’ Life History Narratives and the Cultural Politics of Resistance. Buckingham, Philadelphia: Open University Press.