Understanding Ourselves as Teachers of English Through Analyzing Narrative and Identity in “Teacher Man” Li Zhanzi China's 5th International Symposium on ELT in China & the 1st Congress of Chinese Applied Linguistics, Language & Identity Symposium May.19. 2007,Beijing. Abstract: Recent studies in discourse and identity suggest that while the construction of such major aspects of identity as race and ethnicity may have striking consequences, minor aspects of identities also contribute significantly to our sense of ourselves. Through an interpretation of the multi-positioning in Frank McCourt’s Teacher Man, the paper tries to illustrate how the highly appraised work reconstructs identity by appealing to one’s life story. The relationship between narrative and identity will be explored with reference to the book’s multi-positioning. It is proposed that for the English teachers in China to understand themselves in a more flexible and enlightening way, more teacher narratives need to be elicited and analyzed in the similar vein. Key words: narrative discourse, identity, English teaching, reading positioning I. Introduction: Narrative and identity Since identity is continuously and constantly produced and reproduced, sketched and designed, and often coconstructed by ‘self’ and ‘other’, we should strive to demonstrate how identities are (re)produced through language (and other media) and how they come into existence through social interaction. (De Fina, 2006:22) …Not only is it within social practice that identities are shaped, but also the construction and projection of identities are themselves interactional practices. The details of these interactions vary, as do approaches to their analysis. Yet practices as varied as narrative, life story, interviews, letter writing, and conversation all provide systematic (yet emergent) means of ‘doing’ things through talk that simultaneously provide means of ‘being’. (ibid:22) So what we are going to do is to analyze the interaction between narrative and identity in Teacher Man and explore its implications in our own identifications as teachers of English. Self as a narration rendered intelligible within ongoing relationships Self-conception: not as an individual’s personal and private cognitive structure But as discourse about the self – the performance of languages available in the public sphere (Gergen, K. “Self-narration in social life”) We live by stories, both in the telling and the realizing of the self Self-narratives function much like oral histories or morality tales within a society. They are cultural resources that serve such social purposes as self-identification, selfjustification, self-criticism, and social solidification. (Gergen, in Wetherell, 2001:249) A growing number of scholars suggest that the “form of stories (their textual structure), the content of our stories (what we tell about) and our storytelling behavior (how we tell our stoeis) are all sensitive indices “ of our personal, social, and cultural identities (Schiffrin, 1996:170). Mishler (1999:20) argues that narratives are performances in which individuals “speak” their identities . This way of connecting narrative and identity challeges prevailing assumptions about the self. (De Fina, 2006:234) Narrative analysts who focus on time order have a fancy for the grand narration which gives our life a unified, coherence meaning, which is of a higher order. (MacIntyre 1984; Taylor 1991). But in fact：“Neither the trajectories of our lives nor the stories we construct to understand ourselves and others are smooth, continuous and progressive. Each is marked by fits and starts, detours and hiatuses. (De Fina, 2006:43) This is why we find the author retelling his childhood story, his story of his mother etc. These form part of the teacher man and are something he cannot do without. II. Teacher Man and his narrative About the author Frank McCourt and his work --- Born 1930 in Brooklyn, New York, to Irish immigrant parents, grew up in Limerick, Ireland, and at the age of 19, returned to America. Surviving initially through a string of casual jobs, spending every spare minutes reading books from the public library, McCourt began a process of selfeducation which led to a career of a high-school teacher. the final memoir in the trilogy that started with Angela’s Ashes and continue in ‘Tis; On McCourt’s 30-year teaching career in New York’s public high schools, which began at McKee Vocational and Technical in 1958 Frank acquired authority in the classroom through the telling of his childhood story – which implies the close connection between self-narrative and identity; or in his attempt to reach selfunderstanding, he repeats and revises his childhood stories; in the classroom – an attempt to construct his teacher identity I’m a teacher in an American school telling stories of my school days in Ireland. It’s a routine that softens them up in the unlikely event I might teacher something solid from the curriculum. (p.31) As we know, teachers in the traditional sense do not have self-narration. They are more often than not stereotyped. A teacher with a self story fulfills the emptiness of the traditional teacher image and becomes the new teacher image, with whom the personal resources – life stories become their teaching resource, a multi-dimensional construction of the teacher image. “Personal narratives …are of interest precisely because narrators interpret the past in stories rather than reproduce the past as it was.”(Riessman, 2002:75) (De Fina et al. eds:2006: 234) In MacCourt’s narration, he keeps making reinterpretations of the past by telling stories, thereby acquiring his teacher identification – teaching the interpretation of life experiences. As we know, teachers in the traditional sense as a group identity do not have personal narratives. While making his childhood stories as resources for teaching, McCourt strives to construct a new teacher identity – the personal becomes resourceful. The flat teach image becomes more substantial. How he engages, reproduces and resists traditional discourse of teachering My Life saved my life My life saved my life. On my second day at McKee a boy asks a question that sends me into the past and colors the way I teach for the next thirty years. I’m nudged into the past, the materials of my life.(p.24) “He tried to present a consistent image of composure and self-confidence, yet he regularly felt insecure, inadequate, and unfocused. After much trial and error, he eventually discovered what was in front of him (or rather, behind him) all along – his own experience. “—review from Publishers Weekly In the world of books I am a late bloomer, a johnny-come-lately, new kid on the block. My first book, Angela’s ashes, was published in 1996 when I was sixty-six, the second, ‘Tis, in 1999 when I wa sixty-nine. At that age it’s a wonder I was able to lift the pen at all. …(p.3) Writing and story-telling I’m a teacher in an American school telling stories of my school days in Ireland. It’s a routine that softens them up in the unlikely event I might teach something solid from the curriculum. (p.31) I never expected Angela’s Ashes to attract any attention, but when it hit the best-seller lists I became a media darling. …(p.4) Personal narratives ….they are of interest precisely because narrators interpret the past in stories rather than reproduce the past as it was. (Riessman, 2002:75) In Macourt’s narrative, he keeps reinterpret the past to acquire his teacher man identity – he was actually teaching how one reads and interprets one’s life experiences. You are your material Here ‘s how he persuades his students to write: Dreaming, wishing, planning: it’s all writing, but the difference between you and the man on the street is that you are looking at it, friends, getting it set in your head, realizing the significance of the insignificant, getting it on paper. You might be in the throes of love or grief but you are ruthless in observation. You are your material. You are writers and one thing is certain: no matter what happens on Saturday night, or any other night, you’ll never be bored again. Never. Nothing human is alien to you. Hold your applause and pass up your homework. The difference between McCourt and the rest of the world is that he is a teacher with a life story (which has become a best seller). He owns it and the latter shapes his teaching style, that is using his life stories in the classroom whenever the students ask for it. He used his life to teach, and his job and life became one. How many teachers are willing to do that, or how many of us are courageous and candid enough to use our life experiences are worthy of classroom exposure. That also explains why most teachers have the split identification of themselves as teachers and as ordinary human beings. To be integral like the excellent ones, McCourt is an example. A Teacher vs. Just teaching That also makes the difference between veteran teachers and new ones; the latter insists on the difference between teaching as a job and living a life outside the classroom. The question is: how we engage in the ongoing construction of our identities – try harder, and you become a ‘teacher man’; otherwise, just teaching. “His trademark charm, wit and unself- conscious self-effacement ensure that the flashbacks of his dreadful days growing up in extreme deprivation in Ireland don’t sink the narrative in self-pity.” “one who shares his life stories not only to establish bridges of experience with his students but also to get them to open “ – review by American Library Association McCourt recounts his experiences in New York’s urban classrooms with perspective and the indomitable flair of a story teller. …His thirty-year teaching career is punctuated with small triumphs, pitfalls, and the difficult choices, but always candor and respect for his students. --Review from AudioFile III. Construction of teachers’ group identity In section II we discussed how Maccour’s unique experience made his a charismatic teacher; his life story becoming a source of personal charm. In this section we are going to analyze the construction of teacher identity in the following aspects: American scenario, teachers’ group image, observation of the classroom, reflections on teacher-student relationship, showcase of the successful teaching methodology, thoughts on educational ethics and description of the dilemmas. Stereotypical understanding of teachers; Re-cognizing and re-identification of teachers through McCourt’s writings. “A dazzling writer with a unique and compelling voice, McCourt describes the dignity and difficulties of a largely thankless profession with incisive, self-deprecating wit and uncommon perception.” – Shawn Carkonen 3.1 American scenario Everywhere in the book, we read about American scenarios: Mr.McCourt, you’re lucky. You had that miserable childhood so you have something to write about. What are we gonna write about? All we do is get born, go to school, go on vocation, go to college, fall in love or something, graduate and go into some kind of profession, get married, have the two point three kids you’re always talking about, send the kids to school, get divorced like fifty percent of the population, get fat, get the first heart attach, retire die. (p.292) 3.2 philosophy of education In spite of the helpless rambling here and there, McCourt slipped in his educational ideals: This is where teacher turns serious and asks the Big Question: What is education, anyway? …from Fear to Freedom…what I am trying to do with you is drive fear into a corner. Such idealistic understanding of education helps to portray a noble teacher image. 3.3 capturing the elements in teaching: students, classroom, parents A generous sharing of love-hate sentiments towards the students: …I don’t want to be bothered by them. I don’t want to see or hear them….I wish the kids would disappear. I’m not in the mood. Other days I’m desperate to get into the classroom. I wait, impatient, in the hallway. I paw the ground. Come on, Mr.Ritterman. Hurry up. Finish your damn math lesson. There are things I want to say to this class. (p.303) 来自读者的评论谈到“每个教书新手都该读 读这本书。… 这本书对热爱教学的人来说， 写照了他们的喜怒哀乐。”,另一位教师读者 写道，“充满智慧、真实反映了教书这个工 作，反映了一个教师生活中的种种真实时 刻”。在爱恨交织的叙事中，我们看到他热 爱学生的一面占了上风，这也是他建构教师 身份的努力。 As The Globe and Mail (Toronto) commented, his observations may be a bit repetitive but his depictions of daily classroom trials is extremely sharp and forms the core of the teacher man. （Dec.24，2005,p.D5） McCourt’s unique description of the classroom experience, which is likely to be representative of the teacher group: The classroom is a place of high drama. You’ll never know what you’ve done to, or for, the hundreds coming and going. You see them leaving the classroom: dreamy, flat, sneering, admiring, smiling, puzzled. After a few years you develop antennae. You can tell when you’ve reached them or alienated them. It’s chemistry. It’s psychology. It’s animal instinct. …(p.304) On teacher-student relationship: I said positive things about all my students. They were attentive, punctual, considerate, eager to learn and every one of them had a bright future and the parents should be proud. Dad and Mom would look at each other and smile and say, See? Or they’d be puzzled and say, You talkin’ about our kid? Our Harry? （p.86） McCourt brings down the myth of the teacher image in the mind of those outside the teaching circle: Maids downstairs, side doors, talk about them with mercy, congratulate them on ‘all the time off’ Practitioner’s local voice Newspapers will ask you, mere teacher, for your opinion on education.. This will be big news: A teacher asked for his opinion on education. Wow. You’ll be on television. (p.7) In other words, people care little about teachers’ views on education, although they are in the best position to make comments. As Paul Gee (2000:77) notes, researchers and teachers alike always assume that teachers have only a ‘local’ voice on such issues. Rarely are teachers invited into – or do they have access to – a ‘national voice’. Even when invited to speak at national conferences, teachers usually speaker as representatives of their local areas and their own experiences, while researchers speak as transcending locality and their own experiences. You have the makings of a fine teacher love of Shakespeare; By quoting others’ evaluation, he mentioned several times: You have the makings of a fine teacher）…(p.66) A grammar lesson in full – how he tried all out to teach grammar (p.92) English teachers say if you can teach grammar in a vocational high school you can teach anything anywhere. My class listened. They participated. …(p.98) At the end of the book, he describes the new world he enters when teaching becomes inspirational: 我正在寻找自己的声音和自己的教学风格。我正在学习在课堂里感到自 在。像Roger Goodman我的新领导那样, Bill Ince给我尝试写作和文学课 教学的新主意的自由，还让我自由地创造我的课堂氛围、在没有官僚干 预的情况下干我想干的事情，我的学生成熟、宽容，让我能不求助于面 具或红笔寻找自己的方式。 The revelation appears at the end of the work. Guy’s story made them realize the grace of being able to live and work with health: This is their last high school class, and mine. There are tears and expressions of wonder that Guy is sending us on our way with a story that reminds us to count our blessings. (p.306) 3.4 situational and innovative teaching Innovative: not only using life stories, but also combining socio-cultural situations, e.g. inquiry about dinner the previous day, lunch investigation, review of school canteen and neighborhood restaurants（p.266） Direct, lively, inspirational teaching – in tune with middle school starting-from-life ethics, though somewhat contradictory with stick-to-the-curriculum requirements. A good reconciliation of both his teaching practice. Combination of situational teaching and innovative teaching: e.g. imaginative assignments -- writing excuses for historical figures; suicidal notes, singalongs (featuring recipe ingredients as lyrics), field trips (taking 29 rowdy girls to a movie in Times Square) Writing excuse notes – An excuse note from Adam to God An excuse note from Eve to God ask them to think about anyone in the world at present or in history who could use a good excuse note (p.106) Evaluation of the principle； Top-notch. That, young man, is what we need, the kind of down-to-earth teaching. Those kids were writing on a college level. Energetic and imaginative teaching; Thank you and maybe you should divert them to remote figures in history … You have a right to think for yourselves His insistence on innovation: (when he was teaching in a college) That was something I should have known all along: the people in my classes, adults from eighteen to sixty-two, thought their opinions did not matter. Whatever ideas they had came from the avalanche of media in our world. No one had ever told them they had a right to think for themselves. I told them, You have a right to think for yourselves. （p.142） 3.5 identity of middle school teachers ----I didn’t call myself anything. I was more than a teacher. An exaggerated list of hybrid middle-school-teacher roles I didn’t call myself anything. I was more than a teacher. And less. In the high school classroom you are a drill sergeant, a rabbi, a should to cry on, a disciplinarian, a singer, a low-level scholar, a clerk, a referee, a clown, a counselor, a dresscode enforcer, a conductor, an apologist, a philosopher, a collaborator, a tap dancer, a politician, a therapist, a fool, a traffic cop, a priest, a mother-father-brother-sister-uncle-aunt, a book keeper, a critic, a psychologist, the last straw. (p.23) Differences between middle school and college teachers I have read novels about the lives of university professors where they seemed to be so busy with adultery and academic infighting you wonder where they found time to squeeze in a little teaching. When you teach five high school classes a day, five days a week, you’re not inclined to go home to clear your head and fashion deathless prose. After a day of five classes your head is filled with the clamor of the classroom. (p.4) …In college there were courses on literature and composition. There were courses on how to teach by professors who did not know how to teach. (p.31) About differences between universities and middle schools, he emphasized the necessity of updating teaching notes: In universities you can lecture from your old crumbling notes. In public high schools you’d never get away with it. American teenagers are experts in the tricks of teachers, and if you try to hood wink them they’ll bring you down. (p.80) He emphasized the practice-orientation in middle school teaching: Professors of education at New York University never lectured on how to handle flying-sandwich situations. They talked about theories and philosophis of education, about moral and ethical imperatives, about the necessity of dealing with the whole child, the gestalt, if you don’t mind, the child’s felt needs, but never about critical moments in the classroom. (p.19) 3.6 expectations of the principle ---- He put on no airs… He trusted me Some afternoon Roger came to the Gas House to drink with us. He had no affectations, always cheerful, always encouraging, a supervisor you could feel comfortable with. He put on no airs, no intellectual pretensions, and mocked bureaucratic gobbledygook. …… He trusted me. He seemed to think I could teach on any of the four levels of high school…(p.219) 3.7 dilemmas of teaching Whether to tell life stories in class: Although his students like his stories, parents are against his telling them in class. The different expectations from students and parents made teachers hard to adjust. He chose to put students need in priority and uses his life stories as bail to arouse their interest in learning. They have instincts that detect your frustrations ……They know when they have you on the run. They have instincts that detect your frustrations. There were days I wanted to sit behind my desk and let them do what ever they damn well pleased. I just could not reach them. … You entertain them with stories of your miserable childhood. They make all those phony sounds… (p.94) The heavy load of correcting homework： If you gave each paper a bare five minutes you’d spend, on this one set of papers, fourteen hours and thirty-five minutes. That would amount to more than two teaching days, and the end of the weekend. You hesitate to assign book reports. They are longer and rich in plagiarism. （p.222） Educational ethics to what extent does a teacher holds himself responsible for a student’s well-being: I could give this paper to a guidance counselor. Here, Sam, you take care of this. If I didn’t, and it came out later that the stepfather abused the girl and the world knew I’d let it slip by, important people in the school system would summon me to their offices: … they would want explanations. How could you, experienced teacher, let this happen? My name might blaze across page three of the tabloids. （p.224） Carrier advancement: Aging teacher… still a student… I was twenty-two then and now, at thirty- eight, I was applying to Trinity College. Yes, they would consider my application if I sat for the American Graduate Record Examination. …(p.193) Thirty-eight was on my mind. Aging teacher sailing to Dublin. Still a student. Is that any way for a man to live? (p.199) Identity dilemma for English teachers I was confused. I was born in America. I grew up in Ireland. I returned to America. I’m wearing the American uniform. I feel Irish. They should know I’m Irish. They should not be mocking me. (p.189) -- As non-native teachers of English, the identity gap may be bigger. Our students look at us with suspicion when we try to teach how the Americans do this and that. Recipes or curriculum? For English teachers, teaching language and teaching analysis has long been a dilemma. McCourt was satirical about the helplessness of the situation and ironical of the teachers’ efforts at digging deeper meaning: The other thing I like about the recipes is you can read them the way they are without pain-in-the-ass English teachers digging for the deeper meaning. (p.247) Sometimes, but this is a poem and you know what English teachers do to poems. Analyze, analyze, analyze. Dig for deeper meaning. That’s what turned me against poetry. Someone should dig a grave and bury the deeper meaning. (p.265) His uneasiness about reading aloud recipes in the classroom: You bear a heavy responsibility as you go forth and it would be criminal of me, the teacher, to waste your young lives with the reading of recipes no matter how much you enjoy the activity. （p.255） I know we’re all having a gopod time reading recipes with background music but that is not why we were put on earth. We have to move on. That is the American way. （p.255） On the A train to Brooklyn I feel uneasy over the direction this class is taking, especially since my other classes are asking why can’t they go to the park with all kinds of food and why can’t they have recipe readings with music? How can all this be justified to the authorities who keep an eye on the curriculum? (p.249) English teachers: words or meaning; language or encyclopedia As substitute for analysis, he asked students to respond, like after a movie. (p.265) After a self-irony of digging for deeper meaning, he mentions people, esp. students’ high expectations of English teachers for their encyclopedic knowledge. Obviously, this is a demanding expectation for teachers with heavy workload: …Also, I ought to scan a newspaper in order to keep up with the world. An English teacher should know what’s going on. You never knew when one of your students might bring up something about foreign policy or a new OffBroadway play. You wouldn’t want to be caught up there in from t of the room with your mouth going and nothing coming our. (p.223) In sum McCourt speaks for himself when he is speaking for teachers as a whole, vice versa. The teacher man he constructs is complementary to the protagonist in his previous two works – unique and yet ordinary. His understanding/identification of himself is achieved through his efforts to speak for the teachers. In Johnson’s study of “the discursive construction of teacher identites in a research interview”, the finding is that: As the interview proceeds the teacher’s identity construction becomes increasingly agentive. She shifts from a dilemmatic (how she and others at the school are affected by parental expectations for good student results when students are not academically able) discourse to a more positive construction of how her teaching practices help students to fulfill parental expectations, therefore positioning herself as a good practitioner. (Johnson, G.C. in De Fina,2006:214) V. Reading positioning: identity construction of Chinese teachers of English; English teachers in China; teachers of English in China; China’s English teachers With more non-natives teaching English as a second or foreign language, researchers are noticing the unique contributions these people make to the field and their advantages. （Llurda,2005） Reading Teacher Man, especially exploring the connection between his narrative discourse and his identity construction gives us revelations about how to understand ourselves as English teachers in China. Bibliography Joseph, John E. 2004. Language and Identity – National, Ethnic, Religious. Palgrave:Macmillan. Bethan Benwell & Elizabeth Stokoe 2006 Discourse and Identity Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Fina, Anna De, Schiffrin, D, Bamberg, M. 2006. Discourse and Identity Cambridge University Press. Llurda, Enric. 2005. Non-Native Language Teachers. – Perceptions, Challenges and Contributions to the Profession. Lleida, Catalonia, Spain: Springer. Johnson, Greer C. “The discursive construction of teacher identities in a research interview” in Fina et al. eds. 2006. Discourse and Identity. pp.232. Gee, Paul. An Introduction to Discourse Analysis. Gergen, Kenneth “Self-narration in social life” in Wetherell, M et al. eds. Discourse Theory and Practice. 2001. London Thousand Oaks New Delhi:Sage. 247—260. Thank you all for coming to our symposium!