Sunday, January 15, 2006

Writing Narratives

2005 was the year I learned blogging, really learned it by focusing on it and by doing it myself, not just reading others', although I learnt from reading as well. 2006 will be the year that I interrogate myself as a teacher, by focusing on my practice, and reflecting on it and writing narratives about it. The fact that I am writing (and practising) within the context of the edublogging community makes it all the more useful and potentially valuable. I have been reading Teacher Narrative as Critical Inquiry - Rewriting the Script by Joy S Ritchie and David E Wilson. It is very rewarding and I am captivated by this quote about the "generative and heuristic functions" of writing: that it has "implications beyond self exploration and affirmation." It can allow one to "re-examine and revise (one's) experience and ideas" and to "engage in exploratory, critical thinking in order to solve personal and public problems."
Recently I looked at some writing I had done eight years ago when I was teaching in an all boys school. It is, of course, fictional, but in rereading it from my present vantage point I realise both how much I have learnt (how different I am as a person) and how much of myself I put into this story. It goes without saying that I had not been teaching very long at this time.
The room writhed and heaved with activity and noise. A pencil and then a ruler sailed over the heads of the boys and the hubbub of voices formed an amost palpable wall through which a teacher entered the classroom. Weaving her way through groups of students, she reached her desk at last.
The boys ignored her, seemingly, although now in the far corner of the room shrieks and thuds emerged from the ambient din.
"Fight, fight, fight," the boys were chanting now, onlookers to the fight but more eagerly watching for the teacher's reaction.
The room stilled momentarily and into this tiny chink a roar inserted itself.
"Seats, please, gentlemen!"
More shouted orders, the boys in the front seat covering their ears. Sheepishly the two involved in the fight grinned and took their places.
"I'm waiting," pronounced threateningly, by now the roll book and pen in hand.
"John, Michael, Hai, Khoung, Matthew...," the list of names droned on.
"Come on, I can't hear myself think," imaptiently and angrily now.
Why does settling the class have to take so long? Maybe it's something I'm doing wrong. Maybe it's my body language as I come into the room.
At the side of the classroom near the window sits Domenico. Already today he has done a days work though it is only 9.20 am. Waking his younger brothers and sister, he's prepared breakfast, supervised the making of lunches, and hung out a load of washing. There's so much to do now that Dad's gone and Mum has to work full time. It's night shift and of course that means they've got to keep the noise down while she sleeps after the night's work. Domenico is not one of those who even now are subverting the teacher's approach to this class. He's too tired and maybe a bit worried.
Sitting nearby is Hieu. He watches till the teacher's gaze is not directly on him then throws the ballbearing hard at Tom on the other side of the room.
"Oww!" A great cry fills the air. Tom jumps up, looks wildly around.
"Orright, which one a yous done that? Miss aren't ya gonna do anythink? I coulda been killed!"
He gets the reaction he craves. Later Hieu and Tom will snigger at the success of that tactic - and think up others too horrible to contemplate.
They want to get rid of her, a figure of weakness and therefore despised in this most macho of cultures. They've tried, but not yet succeeded, in getting her to run from the room in tears. It's this they work for, and plot in groups.
The teacher doesn't have any idea... Maybe it's the way I'm dressed or the pitch of my voice... maybe it's....

I do feel for this teacher now. I wonder how she made it through. I'm amazed she's still teaching and, not only that, is passionate about it. Maybe writing the story had something to do with it.


  1. Oooh... last sentence of this post is goosepimply...

  2. This had me weeping with laughter and sympathy . . . I have been this teacher!

  3. Thank you for realising the heuristic and generative nature of writing and putting it into practice at a vulnerable period of your teaching career.

    Those boys were so naughty and so funny. Tom and Hieu come out as strong memorable characters (especially as they were based on real people) and Domenico is such a cool guy, working for his family, and especially his little brother and sister.

    And how they hated the teacher because she was a woman and in their space. They showed her a lot of disrespect, didn't they?

    How would you write a narrative about the classes you taught last year or will teach this year? You've been to many different schools. And why do I get the feeling that the boys' school is a Catholic school rather than a government one.