Spoken Stories: A Narrative Inquiry on the Lives and Experiences of "Outsider Teachers"
Valli, Linda R
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When a teacher enters a classroom, a story begins. The plot is informed by its characters and setting--the students, faculty, and the surrounding community. If a teacher comes from outside this community--whether in terms of race, class, gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity, ability status, or culture--the plot thickens. Existing literature examines the roles that these identity characteristics play in the classroom. Literature currently addresses "outsider teachers"--those whose identity characteristics cause them to stand out among their school communities, and in some cases, within many other communities--but it does so often at the exclusion of a holistic view of the teacher. The research tends to focus on teacher experiences in terms of only a single facet of teacher identity within any given study. This study looks at the experiences of "outsider teachers" with the intention of creating a more layered narrative by encompassing the many facets of identity that interact to create the intricate experience of an individual human being. The experiences of these outsider teachers, the ways in which they characterize their identities, and in particular, the ways that they articulate their approach to pedagogy, provide valuable insight for the teaching community at large. Using narrative inquiry, this study explores the experiences of a group of six "outsider teachers," including the researcher. The images of the participants present a more complex picture than those found in studies that examine teacher identity based upon only one or two identity categories, to the exclusion of others. Informed by intersectionality theory--which emphasizes the nuanced interaction of identity categories--the study seeks to portray depth and subtlety in descriptions of participants. This effort has implications for the viability of intersectionality theory in the discipline of education. In the telling of their stories, participants described the use of proactive inclusiveness, in which they sought to create safe spaces within their classrooms for all students. This proactive inclusiveness emerged from participant experiences of their own intersecting identities. They had felt the complexity of belonging to multiple groups--some of which did not accept the existence of others. Because of this, they came to understand that a group of students might seem cohesive on the surface, but that outsiderness often dwells just below. Proactive inclusiveness, thus, represents a mindset that acknowledges the invisible barriers and struggles that exist within all groups of individuals. They leveraged insider characteristics, using common identity characteristics to gain student trust and challenge embedded stereotypes. Participants stressed the importance of accessing memory as a tool for connecting with students whose characteristics are different from their own, arguing that the existence of an adverse experience in one's life provides some ground for connection with others. In addition, participants described a commitment to giving their students access to broader points of view in an effort to combat the inherited bigotry that can feed societal inequality. Findings also include a potentially expanded definition of "outsider teacher," to describe one who employs a teaching philosophy guided by a desire to focus on inclusion of marginalized students and the development of empathy, acceptance, and open-mindedness among students.