Throughout the semester, it was evident that I too felt a part of something special that developed as a result of the use of student personal narratives:
It feels to me like my English 050 class is going very well and that there is closeness and a community that I have not felt to this degree before. I feel like I am having one of my best semesters ever in terms of supporting students’ learning. I feel like I am ‘seeing’ these students more than I have before and that this is facilitating a richer learning environment. The class feels like a place where the excitement and pleasure and challenge of learning are being shared (Field notes, October 2004).
As an instructor, I was excited about the educational effects that this closeness had in the classroom. I felt a special bond with the class and felt like this bond facilitated my doing a better job as an instructor in knowing and successfully meeting students’ learning needs.
This community that I initially felt in the semester continued to grow and it influenced the way that I related to the students and interacted in the classroom. Not only were barriers removed between students, but there were shifts in the student/instructor relationship as well. I did see the students, and they also saw me. For example, after having been absent from class for several days, I began the Monday class of my return by checking in with everyone to see how they had been since I had seen them last.
I was IMMEDIATELY struck with how genuine the brief conversation that followed was. The students knew that I had been at a research meeting and they wanted to know how it had been. I briefly described how it had been hard, challenging, frustrating but that I had learned so much. One of the students commented that it was interesting to hear me talk about myself like I was a learner and how it seemed that what I asked them to do, I was also doing.
The conversation served to magnify for me how the power relationships in this classroom were profoundly different than in previous classes. I am not an authoritarian type of instructor but I don’t think that I have ever brought as much of my personal self into the classroom before (Field notes, November 2004).
The sense of community that developed with these students profoundly affected how I viewed the teaching and learning that went on in the classroom. Traditional power relationships had been broken down and as a consequence, in a morethan- lip-service way, I felt that I was learning as much as the students. And after twenty-five years of teaching, I was learning how to be a better teacher. Because of the sense of community that I had with these students, I was willing to take more risks in the work that I did. Because the students had been asked to tell stories from their own lives, I felt that it was important that I do that too. There was vulnerability in the activity that required all members of the class to be a part of it. “Spectating” would not have seemed appropriate. Making myself vulnerable, through exposing some of my life experiences from outside of the classroom, contributed to a power shift that allowed everyone, me included, to be engaged in a rich learning experience:
I have definitely learned this semester to just trust my instincts and give things a try. Interestingly I think that I was willing to do this because of asking the students to share personal narratives. It put the onus on me to do the same thing…and the incredible trust that developed in the class allowed me too to do and say and explore and try out things that I haven’t ever before……….. soooooooooooooo fun………who was the student here???? Who was doing the learning????? Who benefited the most???? Me I think (E-mail to RiPP team members, December 14, 2004).