A Reader Response to Looking for Home: Work in Progress by Joanne Sawyer

A Reader Response to Looking for Home: Work in Progress by Joanne Sawyer

How did the interpretation of Cynthia Chambers’ “quest” to contextualize her identity slowly transform in my mind from a reading of a third person account into a first person narrative? I have not lived her experiences in relation to her time, place, or imaginative memory. Yet, her autobiographical accounts triggered my memories, creating a relationship between her history and mine.  In piecing together the stories of her life, Chambers is trying to determine who she is and where home is, and not merely in a literal sense.  When pondering the ‘who’ of her quest and her dislike of labels, Chambers (1994) describes herself as “…a multiplicity of subjectivities that cannot be captured by any one single identity…each of which was shaped by a different landscape” (p. 25).  Moreover, in rediscovering her many identities, the influences that shaped them, the memories that affected how they were relived, Chambers illuminates the dominant theme of interconnectedness. “It is the connection between the pieces- not the pieces themselves— that is,” she stresses, “the real story, the story that needs to be voiced” (Chambers, 1994, p. 30).  Is she talking about her identity? Is she asking us to consider the identity of a Canadian curriculum? How does her writing force us to think about our identities? And how might we understand the historical interconnections among these identities and their respective narrative elements?

If I were to make a list of labels like Chambers: I am a daughter, sister, mother, friend, spouse, teacher, and student.  A dictionary would objectively churn out a definition of each of these terms, implying that Chambers and I share common experiences of living these classifications. However, it is a nuanced complexity of our individual subjectivities that I, Chambers, and any person imposes on our narrative interconnections to these terms. Such unique nuances make our autobiographies distinct from one another. But, if we are subjectively separate, then how is interconnectedness drawn into this concept of identity? In response, Chambers (1994) explains that the interconnection lies “between my life and someone else’s; between the past and the present; between the stories of our lives and the stories of our teaching; between the larger narratives of a culture and the smaller narratives that make up a life” (p. 40). Thus, I am now able to consider the subjective interconnections throughout my teaching career.

When I consider my role as an educator, there are many influences that shaped the choices I made and continue to make as a teacher. Some of these influences such as the political climate of the time, the job market, public opinion, and educational directives, were shared by others. However, how I interpreted these influences may have been very different from the narrative interpretations of my colleagues. For example, when I graduated from Teacher’s College, language instruction was based on a set of beliefs known as Whole Language. Thus, I wanted my program to reflect the theory of Whole Language. However, I was not prepared for the individual subjectivities of each teacher and how these subjectivities can affect the interpretation of new programs and directives.

Later, I was hired to teach kindergarten in an open concept school meaning I would share a large, open space with another teacher. Although we had both been presented with the concept of  Whole Language, my teaching partner brought her twenty-five years of teaching experience- complete with her prejudices towards change- to her understanding of what that program would entail.  What resulted was a professional conflict based on the same language program. For example, my Whole Language learning was based on the theory “…that the model of [language] acquisition through real use (not through practice exercises) is the best model for thinking about and helping with the learning of reading and writing” (Alwerger,& Edelsky,& Flores, 1987, p. 145).  As a result, I wanted to provide my students with play-based opportunities to develop their oral and written language. My teaching partner, however, was firm in her use of copied phonics worksheets. She reserved playtime only for when student work was completed. Each of us subjectively, and thereby differently, justified our choice of instruction, having been influenced by our own narrative interpretations of a successful kindergarten language program.

Throughout my teaching career, personal influences also demonstrated an interconnection with the narrative histories of others. Decisions such as furthering my education by taking Additional Qualifications courses; resigning from teaching and then re-entering the profession years later; moving to a new city to enroll in a graduate program; all affected my role as a teacher, my understanding of what and how to teach, and then ultimately, the understandings that my students developed which were shaped by the personal narratives that I brought to my teaching. Chambers demonstrates the shaping of personal narratives through her childhood story about playing with two of her Métis friends, Judy and Jo-Jo. Although they shared the same experiences,  Chambers’(1994) memory of being “…a girl child full of empathy, one who wished to live and act on the side of justice” was reconstructed by Jo-Jo years later “…as an arrogant little white girl who tyrannically controlled Others in her presence” (p. 48). Thus, I have come to realize that the stories of my life as a teacher are not only mine. Moreover, my stories are being reconstructed into the personal narratives of the people who shared these experiences with me.

In reflecting on my experiences in teaching, I can see that they seem to appear along a continuum from personal to global. Despite where such educational influences appear on this continuum, each one has affected the autobiography of my career, thereby affecting and interconnecting with the understandings of my students and colleagues. Just as Pinar (2012) states that curriculum is “subjective and social”(p.43)- which I interpret to mean private and public, or personal and collective- my lived curriculum and respective identities are also complicated and constructed through personalized narratives that I subjectively interpret based on larger, more global influences. Moreover, just as Pinar’s (2012) “…method of currere seeks to understand the contribution that academic studies makes to one’s understanding of one’s life (and vice versa), and how both are imbricated in society, politics, and culture” (p. 45), I also seek to understand my teaching and my theorizing about the Canadian curriculum, in light of a myriad of interconnected influences and narratives. In seeking this understanding, maybe I am beginning to question my thoughts and perspectives about a Canadian curriculum in ways that Chambers has introduced to me. Chambers (1994) states “I seek a way of becoming. And I seek to work in a way that I can become, a place with others who are becoming” (p. 25). Perhaps this ‘way’ and this ‘place’ that Chambers speaks of are provoking our thinking about the identity of a Canadian curriculum.

As a teacher, I have often been confronted with the task of reflecting. I viewed it as a dreaded task imposed on staff by administrative authority. In reading and critically analyzing, not only Chambers, Pinar, and other curriculum theorists, I am beginning to appreciate the value of my subjective reflections. I am questioning how I have constructed certain narratives as a teacher, woman, mother, daughter within the cultural contexts and historical times that I lived. How could I have ever thought that my ideas, feelings, stories, and perspectives were not important to my teaching? How could I have ever thought that self-reflection was only about me? The way I teach, what I teach, the impressions that I intentionally and not intentionally give my students are not just part of my story. All of these things will be part of the stories that my students will remember and eventually complicate into their lived curricula. As Chambers (1994) states, these stories “…are not only my story. Writing, like the life it flows from, cannot be personal” (p. 47).  And so is the life that flows from teaching.

References

Altwerger, B., Edelsky, C., & Flores, B. M. (1987). Whole language: what’s new?. The Reading Teacher, 41(2), 144-154.

Chambers, C. (1994). Looking for home: work in progress. Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, 15(2), 23-50.

Pinar, W. F. (2012). What is curriculum theory?. (Second ed.). New York: Routledge.