A Narrative Inquiry into ESL Teachers' Experiences of Professional Development



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Throughout the United States, the increasingly diverse enrollment poses cultural and linguistic challenges for its education system. As the number of English language learners (ELLs) is increasing rapidly and steadily, teachers have to be prepared to meet the needs of the linguistically and culturally diverse student population. Since most ELLs are taught by teachers who do not receive adequate training and support (Téllez & Waxman, 2006), professional development plays an essential role in enhancing teacher quality in ESL education. Because of the lack of research on ESL teachers’ knowledge and practice along with professional development, this study explores ESL teachers’ experiences of professional development by employing a narrative approach. This study uses narrative inquiry (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000) as a navigational tool (Clandinin, Pushor, & Orr, 2007) to capture and describe ESL teachers’ learning processes and outcomes through professional development. This includes—and is not limited to—the support they receive, the barriers they encounter, the changes in their teacher knowledge and teaching practices, and the shaping effects of the social, cultural, and political context in which ESL teachers’ professional development experiences unfold. In this study, ESL teachers live out stories of practice, tell stories of those experiences, and modify them by retelling and reliving them. This is how change happens on teachers’ professional knowledge landscapes (Clandinin & Connelly, 1995). Through storytelling, this study delves into the narratives of three certified ESL teachers who are working with ELLs in public elementary schools in the fourth largest city in the United States. Those life stories express the ESL teachers’ experiences of professional development and form the primary source for this study. Three narrative threads are identified in the ESL teachers’ educational life, including the teaching thread, the curriculum inquiry thread, and the thread of multiculturalism. These three narrative threads shape and reshape the participants’ identity and self-image as ESL teachers. Faced with the challenges of creating meaningful learning experience for ELLs, the participating ESL teachers take on the role as change agents while making sense of theory in light of their experiential knowledge. Their personal practical knowledge (Connelly & Clandinin, 1988) is not only rooted in their teaching practices, but also derived from their daily interactions with people of different backgrounds. After recognizing the necessity to attend to cultural diversity in the classroom, the ESL teacher participants recommend incorporating multicultural education into the design and implementation of professional development. To promote the continuity of experience (Dewey, 1983), professional development programs should be organized in a consecutive way in which the use of reflective practice (Schön, 1983) allows ESL teachers to be engaged in a meaning-making process. In order to better facilitate ELLs in English learning, they suggest that ESL teachers create a welcoming and inclusive learning environment, be familiar with the students’ home practices and cultural traditions, and address cultural differences in beliefs and practices. Acknowledging the essential role of native language in the education of ELLs, they propose that ESL teachers should be receptive to the students’ native language and responsive to the linguistic and cultural diversity of ELLs. Although ESL education is facing with difficult situations, ESL teachers must keep a critical hope (Duncan-Andrade, 2009) and make collective efforts to provide an inclusive and equitable education for ELLs.



Narrative inquiry, Education, English language learners, Professional development, ESL teachers, Teachers' Personal Practical Knowledge