Yesterday, as I re-read and shared eight year olds’ writing with pre-service teachers, I realized the sacredness of the writing space shared in the elementary classroom that provides a place for the telling.  The relationships that the writing forged are still fresh in my memory.  Chase provided a glimpse of his escape when the “neighborhood was fighting” and Colton told about his “knowing he was special” when his single parent father rescued him from getting “drowneded” at a nearby water park. Lane’s advice to “not run away” if you are considering it and Emily’s goat stories contribute to the shared experiences of learning about life that matters together.  These seemingly quotidian stories retain the extraordinary moments that aren’t noticed as out of place in the daily-ness of an ordinary day.

My heart was full of the sharing of these moments but also ached for the seemingly normalization of the “just stories” that teachers may not have time to hear because standards have to be met and upheld in not so flexible ways.  Yesterday at another time of the day, I sat with four to twelve year old tellers who did have the luxury of telling not so ordinary, ordinary happenings of the week.  In this “out of school” space standards are different.  Instead of “we have to stay on the same page” we encourage hearing about your different page.  All topics are “appropriate” and “not meeting the standard” is encouraged with the same acceptance  as accelerated performance.  And, you can talk more than once.

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Threads of a Scrap

Small things reveal much.  A well meaning adult full of dominate discourse telling a 5 year old that he couldn’t buy a “dinosaur” as he introduced himself (to a group that all knew him very well expect this adult) because what he “bought” had to begin with the same letter as his name, J.  So with brilliance (he always navigates two languages) he said “Jacket”.  “Perfect!”  My reaction was why not just let him “break the rules” of the game and say dinosaur, thats what he likes and I maybe as a powerful adult think, he’s just a child, he doesn’t get the game or mnemonic devices involved in keeping the initial letter the same in his introduction, everyone knows his name already.  But then again, maybe “playing by the rules” in this case serves a larger purpose?  I have no idea if he “felt” corrected, coerced, or powerless to make his own choices and reveal his “own” ideas.

As the first person began the telling of each one’s name and purchase, it was J… bought a coat, the powerful adult didn’t notice the slip until the third reciter made the slip as well.  “What? a coat?”  Coat was corrected to jacket.  So what was the purpose?  Was it important that the purchased shared a same letter with my name or that it had meaning and represented something about me in this group?

In thinking about how texts are constructed, specifically thinking how all texts are imbued with the choices of representation constructed in the context of the community and have individual, social, and political consequences as well, who chooses?  Who’s rules are followed?

As schools and teachers dominate or prescribe how the “text” we write and perform is constructed the created effects reveal larger texts of social and political importance.  Metadiscusive practices are means of authorizing particular conceptions of who is right and who is wrong even in a word.  Dinosaur and jacket denote different passions and representations of self.  Jackets and coats are semantically indistinguishable, except of course, in the game.

The Boots ARE there!

About a month ago, walking the same street home as always, I noticed two pairs of shoes dangling from the utility wire high above a neighborhood intersection.  It was a cloudy grey day and so both pairs looked weathered and gray as well.  Shoelaces tied securely held the pair together and acted to suspend them as they were caught in flight by the wire. One set of dingy tennis shoes and the other worn brown leather boots.  Occasionally I looked up as I walked to see if they were still there, wondering about the story…  How did they get there?  Was there a story to tell about these shoes that someone could tell?  What about my noticing?  I am sure that “looking up” or “really seeing” are tropes of awareness that could also be told.

On a particularly windy walk, I noticed that only the tennis shoes remained. The next day I casually searched through the edges of the matted leaves and dirt wedged against the curb for the fallen boots and I purposefully scanned the closest yards without seeing anything except the regular debris.  Then yesterday I just happened to look up and there they were!  Two pairs of boots, the weathered brown ones I remembered and a lighter pair of chucka boots… the tennis shoes? They were on the next block.

I was looking at two different intersections and on subsequent walks they became one, I suppose.  Looking from another angle on another day I could see what was really there.

Stories

My remembering is full of stories. But I can’t be the only one to tell the stories because they will lack the multiple perspectives that are valuable. When I taught first and second grade at Tville I thought of writing about how much I learned about my students from their stories. The learning was both academic and more importantly personal that built relationships and also was co-opted to further”school”. To get kids to write I allowed telling those stories but it turned out that the “school” part became less important

Blake’s stories taught me that a shy son of a confident (nice way to say it) police officer really did have his OWN interests and something to teach me about: bird dogs. Jordan wrote about life with her mother complete with a new puppy and how to hide behind the couch when parents arguing became violent. Th twins who lived in the shelter had similar tales of an alcoholic father from whom they fought to protect their family. Kaylee wrote a truly funny and witty tale about the unsuccessful attempt to run away. James became the “good student” in his stories trying out a role he didn’t quite master in real life. The point? Once these stories were told the relationship and our ways of seeing the world were altered, maybe ever so slightly at first but with long lasting effects. Telling stories became an important part of teaching and more importantly learning

Scraps of Sense

In James Clifford’s “On Ethnographic Authority”, he speaks of ethnographic “experience” as an activity that makes use of “scraps of sense” prior to the development of interpretations. That’s what I feel like I’m beginning… to uncover those scraps in my experience that led me to the research path I am on. The scraps are in a multiplicity of forms: stories of teaching moments, specific “engagements” that revealed remarkable insights, other’s (students, colleagues, and peers) whose words led to other kinds of knowing, and of course relationships with students and parents that were most formational. Uncovering these while allowing myself to just write is a challenge.

So today I’m thinking about what I initially said brought me here. It began at a conference where Deneen Frazier showed digital stories created by a teacher and a student whose stories reached inside of me. The student was much older than my own students at the time but much the same bio; disenfranchised, not so successful in schooled practices, but definitely with stories to tell. The teacher sounded just like me. She loved being with students but struggled with the ways of public school policy and structure. I wish I could actually remember the way she articulated her deepest belief about teaching and learning. Even though I never found that story, I emailed Deneen, who actually emailed me back, suggesting I check out Bernajean Porter’s digital storytelling camp so eventually I did.

Here’s where the story takes a turn, backward or forward I’m not sure. I do know that this wasn’t a linear process. It was messy and difficult to really sort out what came first. I always felt “on the edge” of what was considered being an elementary teacher. In my first job I took my 5 year old students to the “teacher bathroom” because it was the closest to our room, not labeled “boys” and “girls”, and it was small, with no “big kids” inside. I quickly learned that adults that worked with children didn’t really want real children in their personal space, even when they weren’t actually there. So begins my story of power, needs, and who decides…