From the interview data and classroom observations, five major themes and six major spatial categories emerged from the data. The five major themes are:
(1) understandings of school and community context,
(2) relationships and the metaphor of family,
(3) teacher navigating personal and professional identities,
(4) pedagogy and the role of affect, and
(5) students’ conceptions of curriculum and classroom space.
The six spatial categories are:
(1) community connections,
(2) school environment,
(3) classroom environment,
(4) classroom instruction,
(5) classroom content, and
(6) pedagogical insight.
We developed a matrix to show the correspondence between the themes and the spaces where those themes were most prevalent. As examples, below, I describe two themes, in two specific school spaces, and offer empirical examples for each.
Theme: Relationships and the Metaphor of Family
The hierarchy of power is played out in various ways within Denise’s school and classroom.
This theme looks at how one teacher incorporates the different elements of “family” as a metaphor in shaping how she interacts with parents and local residents, the development of school-wide programs, and her own pedagogical practices in the classroom.
Spatial Category: Classroom Environment
Denise uses the metaphor of family to help students understand the culture and context of their classroom. Having to work each day with people with whom we do not always share a perspective presents obvious challenges. However, Denise explains to the students that they are to accept these conflicts and work through them together as it is their responsibility to do so as a “family”:
…we're here in this building in this classroom 8 hours a day, five days a week. I see you people more than I see my own family.” I said, “So we're a family. You know, we're a pseudo family. These are your brothers and sisters. You know, this is what it is. Like, you're here. You didn't choose me, just like I didn't choose my parents or my brothers and sisters. We're just here and we gotta deal with what we got.
Theme: Teacher Navigating Personal and Professional Identities
This theme explores what levers Denise has which allow her personal identity to influence or emerge through her professional one. In other words, how does she incorporate key elements from her own identity and history into her daily practices as an educator?
Spatial Category: Classroom Instruction
Denise reflects upon her own experiences as a teacher and student to inform her pedagogical approach during lessons. She draws upon her own challenges with learning to better understand the struggles of some of her students and to shape her practice in a way that best supports their growth and progress. In the example here, she describes how she uses drama activities and strategies to help students explore their own ideas by eliminating some of the language barriers her students face:
And I guess, ‘cause I’ve got a learning disability as well, and I share that openly with the kids, and I let them know, “This is what I’m good at. This is what I really struggle with.” And so I can share with them, “You know what?” I always tell them, “When I was your age I used to write stuff down too because of the same reason. But everyone has a good idea. Everybody has good ideas. And I always start with ideas first. And with drama I can get all your ideas.” And the kid doesn’t have to feel put on the spot.
In many ways, Denise Langley is the best kind of teacher for the district-wide Model Schools for Inner Cities initiative. She clearly sees her community as extending beyond the walls of the school and imagining the ‘school as hub’ was how this initiative was conceived. In order to be a hub, the classroom walls need to be permeable; they need to allow the lives, the challenges and interests of students to affect the pedagogical contract and to sometimes disrupt the formal curriculum. According to Denise, they need to feel that they can love and fight like “a family”. One of the most significant lessons to be taken from this study for both teacher education and teacher professional development is the need to rethink the process of becoming a teacher including the early years of induction. When teachers begin their career, the demands of the early years can so preoccupy them that they can easily lose sight of the larger picture and the ways in which their actions and decisions are part of a system of education on which they can and must have an impact. Efforts to deepen and broaden a teacher’s sense of her own influence might help her to understand her pedagogy as something which has a reach outside her classroom and into her community. A less parochial notion of teaching would go a long way towards changing a school culture and reactivating the perception of teachers as potential change agents. Although originally titled,
The Teacher, The Learner and the Space In-Between, this case study might more aptly be called, The Teacher, The Learner, the Space In-Between and All Around.
Denise Langley was very conscious of her role as a classroom teacher, but also of her important function as a kind of community support worker, parental liaison, and student advocate in their larger worlds. Although not ‘chosen’, it was nonetheless a kind of family, an extended family that she imagined in her classroom and one in which people were accountable to one another in both good and difficult times.