Telling Stories

creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-SA ) flickr photo shared by dkuropatwa

In reading about narrative learning, I found myself making connections with previous work I had done. I remembered my study of historiography and storytelling, the idea that we create history (and our lives) as stories. We take events and string them together to make meaning.

This makes sense to me as a way to understand education and learning. This is often how I look at my own learning, how I make sense of the paths I have travelled. My work previously in Religious Studies, through a BA, MA, and on to being a PhD candidate, was a story that I expected to have a particular goal and end. I have, since then, reinterpreted it as a beginning for a very different journey. Withdrawing from the PhD program was both an ending and a new beginning. I now see my previous education as the roots of my current path. When I tell people about my learning history, I put both my current and past education within a particular perspective by how I describe it.

I had to learn how to retell my story. Suddenly my education was no longer working toward the goal I had expected but I had to make meaning of what I had been through. I had to find a new story to tell, a new way to find purpose in where I had been. My previous path became the training ground for my current life and education. I can speak of teaching because I have been there. I can discuss with instructors because I have had some of the same training. I have done comps, I know what it means to be in a PhD program, I have taught my first class and recognized that I did things I would never do now. It has all become backstory for my current education.

I have also found that the story I tell myself about my experiences impacts my current experiences. Like the students discussed in “It’s not like normal school”, I have a history with education that colours my expectations. My previous experiences with graduate school have given me certain understandings of what graduate classes are like. My experience was with seminar classes, heavy discussion components, article critiques, or small reading classes. To me, that was what graduate school meant. Although some of my courses have taken similar approaches, I am adjusting to different course structures, different approaches, different language.

I am constantly retelling my story, such as positioning myself as a critical theorist. That was a term I had never really heard before. I was used to identifying as a feminist, post-structuralist, post-colonialist.

Reflection through narrative has become a way to make sense of things to me. I blog, often when I need to think through something. I have always had a tendency to talk through my thoughts, most often in a social way, constructing meaning with others to arrive at something together. Class discussions were often where I made sense of what I thought. Now I find myself turning to colleagues but also to the internet. I blog to share, both with myself and with others, my thoughts around issues and also my steps along the journey. It has been a learning tool that gave me space to be “I,” something more formal academic writing had previously made difficult even as my theoretical positioning suggested that “I” should exist more openly. In narrative, I exist. I have agency. I have biases and experiences. I can and do learn.

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