Seeing Through Teachers' Eyes: Professional Ideals and Classroom Practices
reviewed by Stefinee Pinnegar - June 05, 2006
Title: Seeing Through Teachers' Eyes: Professional Ideals and Classroom Practices
Author(s): Karen Hammerness
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807746835, Pages: 105, Year: 2006
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Few would argue that the beliefs teachers hold influence their perceptions and judgments, which, in turn, affect their behavior in the classroom, or that understanding the belief structures of teachers and teacher candidates is essential to improving their professional preparation and teaching practices (Pajares, 1992, p. 307).
As we listened to each others stories and told our own, we learned to make sense of our teaching practices as expressions of our personal practical knowledge (Clandinin, 1986; Connelly & Clandinin, 1988), the experiential knowledge that was embodied in us as persons and was enacted in our classroom practices and in our lives. (Clandinin, 1993, p. 1)
Who you are as a personthe kinds of experiences you had inside and outside of school, values, beliefs, and aspirationshas a profound influence on what you will or will not learn in teacher education, but perhaps even more importantly, it shapes what you will be as a teacher, what and how you will teach, and how you will respond to the changing contexts of teaching (Bullough & Gitlin, 2001, 45).
In Seeing through teachers eyes: Professional ideals and classroom practices, Karen Hammerness proposes a tool for capturing, exploring, and expanding in-service and pre-service teachers images, metaphors, personal practical knowledge, and beliefs that guide and shape their practice. Hammerness labels this tool vision and provides in the Appendix a protocol for eliciting the vision of teachers. As the quotes that begin this review indicate, teachers images of teaching (e.g. Green & Magliaro, 2003; Calderhead, 1988), metaphors (e.g. Bullough & Stokes, 1994), and personal practical knowledge (Clandinin & Connelly, 1996) through reflection (e.g. Munby & Russell, 1992) are ways to reveal, elicit, and explore the tacit knowledge that guides teaching practice. Teacher educators have known about and often used these tools as strategies for supporting both pre-service and in-service development for many years.
Since the idea that vision, image, metaphor, beliefs, etc. are fundamental to the way teachers teach, what do we learn from Hammernesss more current investigation of this phenomenon and from using the tool of vision in promoting teacher change and development? In the book, she begins with four case studies (selected from many others). By exploring and analyzing each of these cases, she reveals both the enduring quality of this vision and the dilemmas it raises for the teachers in question. Hammerness is able to demonstrate the impact of the gap these teachers perceive between their vision and their practice as well as their continuing struggle to bring their vision to their practice.
Thus, through these four cases, Hammerness demonstrates the enduring power of tacit conceptions of teaching. Indeed, we see that the visions pre-service teachers bring into their teacher education coursework (at least in the case of Andrea, Kelly, and Carlos, the three teachers followed from their pre-service teaching experiences to the present) continues to animate their design and development of teaching practice across their careers as teachers. While the cases reveal the impact of teachers vision on decisions to change schools, they do not, however, comment on whether or not teachers visions lead them to seek out professional development or fundamentally alter their classroom practices. Andreas case is instructive. Her vision leads her to change the kind of literature she requires students to read and, ostensibly, is a major determinate in her leaving a teaching job in an impoverished school to teach at the very same school where she was educated herself. Yet, we are not informed whether Andreas vision also led her to seek out, engage in, and implement professional development that honed her discussion skills and expanded her capacity to engage and develop students reading and writing skills, thereby positioning them to help enact her vision. Instead, Andrea reveals that she began to select less respected and valued (by her standards) literature for her students to read, in order to be able to have better discussions in the classroom. Rather than focusing on improving student skills in literacy, Andrea chose to select easier texts in order to improve the level of classroom discussion.
Further, Hammerness does not argue here that one vision of teaching is superior (as implied in the preface), but demonstrates through examples that all teachers carry in their head a vision of what they want to be as a teacher. In this way, the book provides another example of the enduring and fundamental impact of teachers personal theories and their personal practical knowledge. Hammerness cases provide insight into the difficulty, dissonance, and consonance teachers experience between their vision and the reality of teaching and how teachers respond. She establishes that there is a gap between vision and reality and how long that gap will continue can cause discouragement and burnout. These judgments lead teachers to move to new schools, refine teaching skills, or even leave teaching altogether. Thus, an individual teachers vision and her ability to enact it could inform studies of teacher development or retention.
The teachers visions presented here suggest that the major focus of teachers in enacting a vision is not centered exclusively on the one-to-one or group interactions of teachers in a classroom. While Andreas vision is an idealized image of herself engaged in provocative discussion with students regarding important literary works, Kellys and Jakes vision presents an image of teachers engaged in problem-based and exploratory self-directed learning projects with students as the focal point of their educational experience. Kelly and Jakes vision requires that most, if not all, teachers in a school share and attempt to instantiate a similar vision of teaching. In contrast, Carlos vision focuses even further beyond the classroom to the need for schools to ensure the future schooling and educational experiences of students. Carlos vision for himself as a teacher is that he will be able to motivate and support poor minority youth in successfully gaining experience with and completing post-secondary education. Even more than Jake and Kelly, Carlos vision requires commitment not only from a school and educational entities, collectively, but also from the community from which the students come.
Like other explorations of tacit knowledge, beliefs, metaphors, and images of teaching, the visions of the teachers presented here contain within them differences in focus; this reveals that teacher education, which usually provides information about context, content, teaching methods, and student learning, will resonate with visions of pre-service teachers. However, it is also clear that not all content vis a vis teacher education will resonate with all teacher education candidates at all times or even that most of it will. Indeed, teachers visions vary as does their ability to see what will support them in carrying out their vision. The difficulty for teacher educators is that the energy and motivating power of pre-service teachers visions cannot be counted on to support these future teachers in either learning or practicing the skills, knowledge, and disposition teacher education coursework provides.
From these four cases, we see the ways in which educational purpose, classroom practices, learning approaches, and teaching methods can be the focal point or heart of an individual teachers vision. We also see that in order to successfully bring a vision into reality, it is necessary that teachers gain understanding and practical skills in the entire range of coursework that teacher education and development can potentially provide. However, the cases also demonstrate how blinded teachers might be to the usefulness of this full range of content with respect to the enactment of their individual dreams and idealistic images of themselves as teachers. It might be difficult to help Andrea see that the purposes of schooling and advocacy could facilitate her to bring into existence a classroom where students engage meaningfully and deeply with what she considers the important literature of the world. While Carlos would probably resonate with coursework unappealing to Andrea, it might be difficult to get Carlos to see that coursework focused on teaching methods or classroom management might support his vision of enabling poor and minority youth to gain access to higher education.
Hammerness is, however, clearly aware of the ways in which attention to vision in teacher education and in-service education might increase teachers engagement in such activities and might enable them to instantiate their visions more completely. Toward this end, Hammerness provides us with examples of how teacher educators have used vision as a tool to deepen pre-service teachers engagement with teacher education. Teacher educators like Anna Reichert, Rachel Lotan, and Jean Lythcot help their pre-service teachers explore the undiscovered parts of their vision. These are the unclear or unarticulated spots, which lead to the gap between vision and teaching experience that were so problematic for Andrea, Jake, Kelly, and Carlos. They might, for example, push pre-service teachers to think about enacting their vision personally as a teacher as well as at a certain level of a school or a larger community. In this way, Andrea, during teacher education, begins to think of advocacy beyond her classroom and its potential impact on enacting a particular vision. For Carlos, who is so focused on opening future educational possibilities for his students, this encounter might lead him to realize that his own classroom practices play an immediate role in students future educational possibilities. By supporting teachers in interrogating and expanding their visions by illuminating them, teacher educators are able to make the content of teacher education relevant to teachers; additionally, this illumination increases the likelihood that the good educational practices presented in teacher education might endure in the future commitments and practices of its teachers.
Through the Appendices, Hammerness provides her readers with an opportunity to use the tool of vision to support them in preparing teachers or better educating in-service teachers. Like other examinations of tacit beliefs and their role in the development of teaching practice, Hammerness, like others, reveals the vital importance of beginning with teachers beliefs, personal practical knowledge, metaphors, or images as the foundation for teacher education.
Bullough, R.V., Jr. & Gitlin, A.D. (2001) Becoming a student of teaching: Linking knowledge production and practice (2nd ed.). New York: RoutledgeFalmer.
Calderhead, J. (1988). Teachers professional learning. Bassingstoke, England: Taylor & Francis.
Clandinin, D. J. (1993). Teacher education as narrative inquiry. In D. J. Clandinin, A. Davies, P. Hogan, & B. Kennard (Eds.), Learning to teach: Teaching to learn . (pp. 1-15). New York: Teachers College Press.
Greene, H. Carol and Susan G. Magliaro. 2003. Images of Teaching. Research report, Department of Teaching and Learning, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, VA.
Pajares, F. (1992). Teachers beliefs and educational research: Cleaning up a messy construct. Review of Educational Research, 62(3), 307-332.
Russell, T. & Munby, H. (1992). Teachers and teaching: From classroom to reflection. London: Falmer.