Auto/biography & Pedagogy

Memory & Presence in Teaching

by Freema Elbaz-Luwisch (Author)
©2014 Monographs XXIV, 251 Pages
Series: Complicated Conversation, Volume 42


In the tradition of educational narrative inquiry, this book explores diverse ways of thinking, writing and theorizing from auto/biographic experience, in language that is rooted in practice yet challenges the authoritative discourses of educational policy, theory and research. The book moves from first to third person accounts and from personal and family stories to narratives of teachers and teacher educators in the contested, multicultural environment of Israel. It highlights the multi-voiced, embodied lives of Israeli teachers from many cultures and identities and engages with literature around memory and embodiment, imagination, place and presence in teaching. The book will interest researchers in curriculum studies, teaching and teacher education, as well as scholars interested in issues of memory in historical and contemporary contexts.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • Dedication
  • About the Author
  • About the Book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Illustrations
  • Foreword: Devorah Kalekin-Fishman
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1: Mixing Memory and Desire like Spring Rain
  • Theories of memory
  • The ethics of memory
  • Memory and desire
  • Electronic memory
  • Memory and trauma
  • Chapter 2: “Firm on My Feet”: My Mother’s Story
  • Writing the story
  • Note
  • Chapter 3: Mothering, Embodying, Teaching
  • Mothering
  • Embodiment
  • Teaching
  • Conclusion
  • Note
  • Chapter 4: Retrieving Memory, Shaping Teaching: Stories of Teachers
  • Methodology
  • Themes in teachers' stories: Life as a journey of personal development
  • Telling the stories: From origins to outcomes
  • Place and displacement, change and continuity
  • Notes
  • Chapter 5: Retrieving Memory, Shaping Teachers: Stories of Teacher Educators
  • Introduction
  • Methodology
  • Origins and place
  • Purpose in teaching
  • Attaining university education
  • Interactions of research and practice in life and career
  • History and place in the teachers’ stories
  • Discussion
  • Note
  • Chapter 6: Auto/biography, Writing and Teacher Learning
  • Autobiography and personal writing as inquiry in teaching
  • Context and method
  • Not another reading assignment!
  • Aspects of professional learning
  • Does writing enable teachers to challenge the authoritative discourse?
  • Notes
  • Chapter 7: “Taking the Imagination Visiting” as Pedagogy: Journal Fragments
  • Zichron Yaacov, Israel, 1995
  • Jerusalem, August 1996
  • Flashback: London, 1967
  • Oulu, Finland, February 2001
  • India, February 2003
  • Goa, February 8, 2003
  • Haifa, 2003–4
  • Kingston, Ontario, July 2005
  • India, February 2006
  • Meenakshi Amman Temple, Madurai, February 21, 2006
  • Kumily, February 22, 2006
  • Vienna, May 2006
  • Einsiedeln, Switzerland, September, 2009
  • Poland, August 2011
  • July 31, 2011
  • London, November 2011: Navigating in the Dark
  • Israel, 2010: Green Formica—a poem about writing
  • Note
  • Chapter 8: Auto/biography and Conflict in Teaching and Life
  • Introduction
  • The roots of an approach to conflict
  • Learning from conflict
  • Story and conflict in teacher education
  • Conflict promotes engagement
  • Conflict brings out the best in people
  • Conflict raises awareness
  • Unsolvable conflict promotes learning
  • Personal limitations
  • Humility: Learning to accept that one can’t always get it right
  • Chapter 9: Presence and Dialogue, Auto/biography and Teaching
  • Presence
  • Embodiment
  • Imagination
  • Dialogue
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Bibliography


Following Chapter 2

1.The Wallach grandparents

2.Aunt Toba, with her son Joseph, 1907–8

3.Canada immigration record

4.Nussia and Freema, my mother’s nieces

5.My mother in Montreal, around 1930

6.My parents, 1944

7.My mother and I (around age 2)

8.My mother and I (age around 10)

Following Chapter 7

9.Harry and Muriel Stevens, Reading, England, 1967

10.Rebecca Soudant’s installation, ReCover, August 2005

11.Oliver Twist, from Soudant’s installation

12.Kalliopi Lemos, “Wooden Boat with Seven People”

13.Another view of “Wooden Boat with Seven People”


Devorah Kalekin-Fishman

Elbaz-Luwisch describes the form of her chapter on memory as ‘resembl[ing] a meandering stream that curves back on itself at times but still arrives, eventually, at a wider and deeper place’. To me, this oxymoron is in fact a description of the ‘form’ of the entire book. Beginning with a chapter on memory, the book goes on to chronicle different kinds of memories and different kinds of accounts. There are several returns to clarify some of the narratives. But when the author sees fit to stop the meandering, she leaves her readers in a place that is indeed far broader and deeper. Reading Autobiography and Pedagogy on a trip to Jerusalem, I discovered that ‘the journey that constitutes the book’ split neatly into the ‘there and back’. When the bus returned to what was for me home base, I realized too that the textual mosaic assembled in it does not disappear with the final page. The stories that Elbaz-Luwisch bears with her as ‘the underside of a cheerful Canadian childhood’, and to which she curves back several times in the course of the book, disclose increasingly more subtle details. Somewhat ironically, too, the descriptions of intimate struggles with writing, with conflict, with teaching, outline a concern with the world that mercilessly invades private experience but may ultimately be shaped by the accumulation of clandestine triumphs and failures.

Writing frankly about her experiences and about the layered experiences of her parents and their extended families, Elbaz-Luwisch shows how stories shape trajectories from generation to generation. No wonder it turned out to be highly appropriate to be reading about this stream on a bus winding up the hills to Jerusalem. I was on my way to participate in a family fête. Without faltering, the welcoming relatives towed me back into a planet that I had made every effort to escape. The customs that governed the celebration of the wedding—the ceremony and the festivities—have not been part of my repertoire for dealing with daily life for many years. But of course, like compost, as in the author’s life, they are merely lying fallow and can easily be stirred up. Savoring the stories that I read it was brought home to me with something of a start that memories that I thought had been left behind, were ← xi | xii → embodied in my postures, echoing in my tone of voice and bearing unimpeachable witness to desires that only seemed to be quelled.

A large part of this book is taken up with stories that ‘had to be told,’ and that turns out to be a major strength. The easily accessible conversational style combines with highly serious investigations of the nature of memory, of storying and conflict, and of the varied connections of their configuration with how people teach. Elbaz-Luwisch’s decision to intersperse summaries of theory and quotes from narratives with comments describing how she finds herself talking and writing evokes awarenesses of traces that make people the persons they are, on the one hand, and wonder about how these traces fit into the world that is contrived by memories, on the other. The stories told in the book call attention to memories that have had a decisive impact on shaping the private lives as well as the more or less public work of the pedagogue-tellers. They make it easy to identify with the challenges and the dilemmas that confront teachers at whatever phase of students’ careers they are involved in, and above all the dilemmas of those who have responsibility for teacher education.

In relation to the tradition of narrative inquiry which Elbaz-Luwisch has done much to further since the 1980s, the chapters of this book highlight the idea that learning is made possible only when there is mutual awareness of the selves called upon to act in the classroom. Over and over again, during the last several decades, researchers have found that students of all ages seek a truly human(e) relationship with people who are positioned as their teachers. To their minds, such warmth is a necessary, if not sufficient, condition for enabling learning. This underlines the fact that narratives of self are not solely a channel to therapy, or mere self-indulgence, but rather constituents of action. It is the narrated self that is the ‘presence’ in the classroom and that self which builds, or avoids building, relationships with students. With Elbaz-Luwisch, who shares her feelings and her experiences frankly, the warmth is not described, it is illustrated.

Elbaz-Luwisch quotes stories of and by different students and colleagues. Her own story is about her experiences in teacher education, and about how those experiences are buttressed by her unavoidable legacy, the gnawing telling and re-telling of her parents’ stories. Their stories of impoverished childhood, of threats in adulthood, of family members lost in the Holocaust guide ← xii | xiii → her and her children to repeated, but still not exhaustive, searches for evidence of the definitive key to the code of a tale that endures. Though visited and revisited, these stories have no finality, and remain with the reader echoing and re-echoing in one’s own search for understanding.

The stories with no endings are encountered in contextualized dialogues; they form, therefore, invitations and promises, as the author says, of re- imagining and re- storying in further contexts, and even an invitation to re-readings. Whether or not we are privy to the re-tellings, readers are part of the dialogue. The book ends with reminders of the importance to memory and to pedagogy of ‘presence,’ ‘embodiment,’ of ‘imagination,’ and of ‘dialogue. The concluding remarks do not put paid to the book. Instead, they involve the reader anew in the situated problematic of storying. As a volume about narrative, Auto-biography and Pedagogy ends in medias res and implicates the reader in the webs of questions that have arisen. The printed matter comes to an end, but the story and the search for cues continues, in response to the challenging dialogue that the book initiates.

Not only does the dialogue go on, but it raises issues that are barely hinted at in the text. While this is a highly personal book, there are signals throughout of possibilities for a broader social theorization. Locating the material in a ‘post-modern’ frame is, to my mind, too facile. There are several indications of what social approach is suggested albeit, perhaps luckily, not yet worked out. Above all, the confluence of teaching and warmth, of openness and learning, is congruent with the ideal of the democratic classroom, thus raising a series of new questions. Among other salient themes, Elbaz-Luwisch points out that space and place are central to all the stories that teacher educators and mentors tell. Whether childhood is recalled with joy or sadness, the where of it and its flavor is indelibly etched in memory. Still, the complex networks of people and things that constitute those memories are not called up in detail in this volume. Views and objects are referred to, if at all, only summarily. What is the nature of the interaction with the immediate environment that is embedded in memory and embodied in unconscious but persistent behaviors? None of the story-tellers that Elbaz-Luwisch cites seems to find it necessary to describe in detail the ‘things’ with which they have to deal in their homes. None seems to have spent any time in describing the physicalities of the classrooms in which teaching and mentoring is per ← xiii | xiv →formed. All the teachers and teacher-educators who tell their stories seem to take for granted a situated room, shapes of walls, distributions of desks,

places for a black- or a white-board, means of communication and of recording events. Thus, while the stories quoted are told by people from a variety of cultural backgrounds, with its attempt to describe the prevalence of difference, the book actually manages to underscore similarities. Depending on your place on the globe, I guess, you can learn exactly what defines the uni- versalities of human perception at least in a given site from what is ‘left out’. Here we learn the particularities of what it means to be living in Israel — for teachers and students alike.

In line with current streams of theory in sociology, this book actually hints, then, at the applicability of actor-network theory, the theory based on recognition of the fact that relations with objects are integral to the experience of the social. The embodied self with its world of memory sees, hears, smells, feels, tastes the objects with which it necessarily has contact. It also must consider the kinds of actions that objects intimately involved in our lives elicit. This oblique contribution to a comprehension of the social indicates further directions for exploring memory in dialogues.

So much is said, and so much is left unsaid. The broadening stream twists and turns, and deepens.

Haifa, 13 March, 2013 ← xiv | xv →


Several chapters of this book are based on published articles or book chapters; I am grateful to the publishers for permission to draw on the following materials:

1.Chapter 4 is a revised and expanded version of Elbaz-Luwisch, F., (2009). Life stories in time and place: Narratives of Israeli teachers. In S. Gill (Ed.), Exploring selfhood: Finding ourselves, finding our stories in life narratives. Brighton, UK: Centre for Research in Human Development, Guerrand-Hermes Foundation.

2.Chapter 6 is a revised and expanded version of: Elbaz-Luwisch, F. (2010) Writing and professional learning: The uses of autobiography in graduate studies in education. Teachers and Teaching, Theory and Practice 16(3), 307–327, published by Taylor and Francis, http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13540601003634404.


XXIV, 251
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2013 (November)
pedagogy gold teaching Israel tradition experience imagination educational policy
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 251 pp., num. ill.

Biographical notes

Freema Elbaz-Luwisch (Author)

Freema Elbaz-Luwisch (PhD in educational theory from the University of Toronto) serves on the University of Haifa’s Faculty of Education. She is the author of two previous books and numerous articles and the co-author (with Xin Li and Carola Conle) of Shifting Polarized Positions: A Narrative Approach in Teacher Education (Peter Lang, 2009).


Title: Auto/biography & Pedagogy