Passions and Possibilities: The Lived Experience of Teaching Advanced Placement English in Public High School

Thumbnail Image
Publication or External Link
Borenzweig, Suzanne R.
Hultgren, Francine
This study explores the lived experiences of Advanced Placement English teachers in public school high school. Max van Manen's methodology for hermeneutic phenomenological research establishes the framework for the inquiry. The writings of Heidegger, Gadamer, and Greene provide philosophical grounding throughout the research process. The work of curricular theorists elucidates possibilities for understanding the experiences of Advanced Placement English teachers, as I address the question: "What is it like to teach Advanced Placement English while caught in the tension between teaching and testing?" Six Advanced Placement teachers engage with the researcher in conversations about being with students in the Advanced Placement English classroom. The teachers also reflect on their practice through a series of shared journal entries. The teachers, five women and one man, range in age from 25 to 45 years, and have between 2 and 10 years experience teaching Advanced Placement English. The phenomenological text constructed from conversations and written reflections brings forth aspects of the experience of dwelling aright in the Zone of Between in AP English teaching: between teaching and testing, high school and college, and childhood and adulthood. The teachers approach their work as master-craftspeople in the classroom-workshop, passing on to their student-apprentices the proper use of tools in the art and craft of reading, writing, thinking, and test-taking in the AP English classroom. As teachers prepare students for the College Board exam, they also embrace, question, and innovate around aspects of the test. The teachers use the exam as a foundation for courage and encouragement, confidence and passion building, and creative ways-of-being with students. The study suggests a need for Advanced Placement teachers to participate in the development of curriculum, to retain the autonomy to teach from the self, and to be trusted to provide students with meaningful experiences in the art and craft of literature study. The study also reveals the importance of widening the narrow definition of student achievement to include more than test scores. Finally, the study recommends an inquiry-based project approach to assessment to expand the notion of teaching with passion for possibility in the Advanced Placement English classroom.