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Counternarratives: Studies of Teacher Education and Becoming and Being a Teacher

reviewed by Sharon M. Ravitch - October 13, 2008

coverTitle: Counternarratives: Studies of Teacher Education and Becoming and Being a Teacher
Author(s): Robert V. Bullough, Jr.
Publisher: State University of New York Press, Albany
ISBN: 0791473139, Pages: 254, Year: 2008
Search for book at Amazon.com

Grounding his insights in over twenty years of research in teaching and teacher education, Robert Bullough Jr. addresses issues of pedagogy, curriculum, and program development at a concerning moment in the field of education broadly, and teacher education specifically. Bullough’s deeply rooted wisdom of practice is particularly salient for teachers and teacher educators during this time of increased standardization and top-down control in education; a time when teachers and teacher educators are under increased and often disempowering and delegitimizing scrutiny, left isolated and forced to follow proscribed and often hollow pathways for practice and professional development that are linked primarily to external measures of success and achievement. Counternarratives: Studies of teacher education and becoming and being a teacher, which is a unique combination of historical analysis, classroom and school-based empirical research as well as Bullough’s own and his colleagues’ practice-based reflections, offers teachers, teacher educators, and educational policy makers a framework for conceptualizing local, practice-based inquiry as the promise for reinvigorating broader spheres of thought and practice in teaching and teacher education.

Counternarratives weaves together previously published works that Bullough has clustered thematically in four interrelated areas: “Historical Studies,” “Studies of Becoming and Being a Teacher Educator,” “Studies of Becoming and Being a Teacher,” and “Program Studies.” Each of these sections contains studies that speak to a shared effort to make visible, and therefore useful, the research and professional reflections of practicing teachers and teacher educators. Together, these studies tell a much-needed public story of the courage, resiliency, skills, and commitments of teachers and teacher educators endeavoring to “teach against the grain” (Cochran-Smith, 1991) of an accountability-driven schooling system and its attendant criticisms of teachers and teacher preparation programs. In offering a range of rich and textured local narratives of teaching and teacher education, the book offers, as its title suggests, counternarratives – stories that work against the now dominant discourse of teaching and teacher education, the “normative tales of system intransigence, teacher incompetence, and program ineffectiveness” (p. 1). These narratives hold within them practice-based insights and approaches to the development of classrooms and programs that serve to support teachers and teacher educators in working towards “education as the practice of freedom” (hooks, 1994), both their own freedom and the freedom of their students.

To begin, Bullough reminds us, through his use of historical analysis, of the need to remember where the field of teacher education has been. This history serves as ballast as we enter a new and often delegitimizing educational terrain. He argues,

There is a desperate need for teacher educators to reclaim our collective past and to begin to build a shared memory, in part because memory is necessary to building programs of research… Perhaps more importantly, both resistance and innovation frequently begin in the recovery of memory, a reclaiming of the past. (p. 9)

The history of teacher education holds important strategies that can help support teachers and teacher educators to resist the current external controls over teaching and schooling practices.

Combining historical analysis with classroom-based research and professional reflections, the book offers a particular hopefulness that is grounded in research collaboration and critical self-reflection; it offers teacher inquiry as a critical tool in the reaffirmation of teachers and teacher educators, a strategy for validating and reinforcing our values, practices, and hopes for teaching and teacher education. Bullough makes a compelling case for the value as well as the ideological and practical usefulness of locally based teacher inquiry. He quotes:

The future of teacher education most certainly rests on our ability to sustain a generous view of research. Quality experimental studies are desperately needed to successfully make the argument for the value of public education and teacher education to doubting policy makers and to making a case for the trustworthiness of educators. But so too are quality local studies needed that speak directly to the challenges of improving practice and policy—small stories that test larger narratives. Local studies serve as a direct means for generating, exploring, and testing theories and established policies and practices and for building and extending the conversation about quality teaching and teacher education. This said, perhaps above all else the value of local studies is to serve as reminders that beneath central tendencies and the much-publicized efforts to raise standardized test scores are living people, individuals working in extra-ordinarily complex settings and striving to make sense of their lives and work as best they can to live undividedly, and for whom teaching is first, foremost, and always a personal and profoundly moral relationship (Ayers, 1993). (p. 11)

Bullough both challenges and invites teachers and teacher educators committed to improving the field to reinforce our commitment to and appreciation for teacher research and its potential for humanizing the field at a time when that is greatly needed.

As we know, the challenges that teachers and teacher educators now face – challenges to our skill sets, knowledge base, professional identities, and our daily practices, along with the need to meet these challenges through evidence-based means – require that teachers and teacher educators begin to view the development of an inquiry stance on practice (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1999) and the methodological skills necessary to engage in systematic research into practice as a central stance of teaching and teacher education. As Bullough suggests, adopting this stance necessitates that teachers and teacher educators seek out and engage in teaching and learning that will help us to develop the awareness, knowledge base, skills, and methods necessary to become practitioner-researchers who can engage in ongoing, systematic inquiry that will lead to the development of informed, evidence-based professional practice. Counternarratives supports the development of a set of ideas and methodological approaches to help teachers and teacher educators develop our own inquiry stances and to conceptualize this kind of knowledge generation as a way to stay authentic and nourished in our professional work.

Counternarratives culminates in a set of principles that address a number of critical issues for teachers and teacher educators: the centrality of identity, and specifically teachers’ identities to their professional meaning making; the importance of understanding teacher identity and teachers’ overall well-being as central to educational improvement; the need for teacher-generated critical studies concerned with the practice of schooling; the identification and critical examination of “the ways in which contexts enable and limit meaning [which] requires clarity about aims, especially an understanding of the social philosophy and the evolving purposes of education in a radically pluralistic democracy” (p. 229); the need for rigorous self-study and a robust teacher education that can support such study with programs of depth, intensity, and duration; the need for “abundant and consistent teacher talk about teaching” (p. 229) that is grounded in reflective practice and an inquiry stance on teaching; the need to conceptualize the intersection of one’s own research and reflections on practice and “public theory” which is the result of empirical research and historical studies; the importance of continuous reflection on and experimentation in the development of quality teacher education programs and professional development opportunities which includes individual and collaborative interrogation and scrutiny of values and objectives; the need for judgments of the quality of teaching and learning to be based on data-driven self-assessment rather than on external measures; the development of quality teacher preparation which includes mentoring and constructive, practice-based critique as well as systematically studied trial and error; and a view of expertise in teaching as context-specific. These principles offer teachers and teacher educators a pathway back to ourselves – a reinvigorated trust in our own values, how we generate and share knowledge, and how we qualify the effectiveness of our teaching.

Each chapter in this book offers a counternarrative to the dominant, deficit-oriented views of teachers and teacher education. The book as a whole is a powerful and compelling counternarrative to dominant educational discourse and its stultifying effects on teachers and teacher educators. It is within these narratives, these locally based stories, that we find the real hope – not only for challenging the dominant and dominating educational narratives of our time, but for creating and sustaining our own narratives that serve as valuable lessons for those who care about the future of education and who understand that teachers’ voices must be centralized within any meaningful discourse on educational improvement.


Ayers, W. (1993). To teach: The journey of a teacher. New York: Teachers College Press.

Cochran-Smith, M. (1991). Learning to teach against the grain. Harvard Educational Review, 61(3), 279-310.

Cochran-Smith, M., & Lytle, S. (1999). Relationship of knowledge and practice: Teacher learning in communities. In A. Iran-Nejad & C. Pearson (Eds.), Review of research in education (Vol. 24, pp. 249-306). Washington, DC: American Educational Research Association.

hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to transgress. New York: Routledge.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: October 13, 2008
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15410, Date Accessed: 12/3/2021 1:39:06 AM

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About the Author
  • Sharon Ravitch
    University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education
    E-mail Author
    SHARON M. RAVITCH, Ph.D. is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, where she serves as Co-Director of the Center for Collaborative Research and Practice in Teacher Education. Ravitch’s research focuses on practitioner, action, and teacher research, institutional ethnography, multicultural teacher and counselor education, and gender equity in schools. Ravitch wrote School Counseling Principles: Multiculturalism and Diversity (American School Counselor Association, 2006) and co-authored Matters of Interpretation: Reciprocal Transformation in Applied Development Contexts for Youth (Jossey-Bass, 1998). Ravitch is currently completing two co-authored books, one entitled Teaching, Learning, and Doing: Interpretive Approaches to Educational Inquiry and Professional Development and the other Writing as a Practice of Teaching: Narratives from First-Year Teachers. She is the Research Co-Director at the Center for the Study of Boys’ and Girls’ Lives.
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