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Living Stories

Nontraditional College Students in Early Childhood Education


Susan Bernheimer

In Living Stories: Nontraditional College Students in Early Childhood Education, Susan Bernheimer takes the reader into her journey with a group of nontraditional college students. Bernheimer’s struggle to find a meaningful approach to teaching the students about early childhood development and care is infused with the insights and wisdom that come from listening to, and valuing, the remarkable stories of her students’ lives. This book offers a powerful new road map for early childhood teacher preparation through a relational pedagogy that honors students’ life experiences and that leads to deep reflection and learning. The approach is embedded in students’ strengths and knowledge and is successfully inclusive of an increasingly diverse student demographic. Bernheimer provides an inclusive model of education that builds upon the strengths of all students. 

“In this gem for early childhood teacher educators, Susan Bernheimer shows us how to create transformative learning experiences for our students that will, in turn, transform us as teachers. Through insightful stories of teaching and learning with nontraditional students, she asks us to take a hard look at ourselves and who our curriculum serves. As she lovingly and sensitively brings her students’ lived experiences to the center of the learning process, she opens doors to relevance, empowerment, and profound meaning-making. It is a clarion call for rethinking our priorities and re-envisioning our pedagogy. A lifelong learner herself, Susan provides a roadmap for becoming a reflective practitioner, authentically modeling what we ask of our students and finding our own humanity in the process. It is one teacher’s journey with lessons for us all.” —Judy Magee, Faculty, School of Human Development, Pacific Oaks College

Living Stories is an extraordinary book about the journey of a college instructor to find her own voice and to open her heart and mind to disenfranchised and marginalized early childhood education students. Susan Bernheimer has developed a step-by-step pedagogy that will revolutionize teacher education for non-traditional students, as well as typical college students. This highly engaging book is deeply rooted in social justice and tells the authentic stories of societal judgements, failure, motivation, and the professional and personal growth of student teachers, whose stories are validated and intertwined with child development theory and content. This book gives direction for overcoming instructor frustration with an inflexible approach to college instruction and provides a how-to on inclusion, advocacy, and community in the classroom. As I read this book with increasing excitement, I wanted to share it with all of my educator friends! My favorite quote addresses the overarching, political nature of early childhood education: ‘Responding to the pressing needs facing families at this time will require re-thinking our current values and priorities for programs serving children and their parents. It will mean re-assessing our approach to preparing teachers and directors of early childhood programs.’” —Helen M. Davis, Interim Director, Education Department, UCLA Extension, Los Angeles

“Susan Bernheimer’s newest book, Living Stories, gives the reader a brave and honest portrayal of non-traditional college students’ deep desire to learn and apply the tenants of child-centered pedagogies in their classrooms. Her insistence that we provide an equitable response in our own higher education classrooms asks us to examine our own traditional learning environments, that we must give these students what they need: a voice of clarity that is valued and heard. Bernheimer’s book is a warm-hearted and firm call to action. We must respond to the learning needs of our non-traditional college students and give voice to early childhood eduction teachers’ gifts to children and parents, so that we all may engage in a cycle of honesty, compassion, and value for the work we all must do to raise generations of children who know they are valued. Our society depends on it!” —Dionne Clabaugh, Faculty, School of Human Development, Pacific Oaks College (San Jose)

“This new book by Susan Bernheimer focuses on nontraditional students she taught, interviewed, and built relationships with while teaching in ‘inner city’ community colleges in Los Angeles. In her beautiful narrative style and methodology, she uses storytelling to reconceptualize the ways in which teacher education programs in early education programs, and beyond, must include the rich knowledge of student-lived experience. Living Stories is a wonderful contribution by an expert anti-bias early childhood educator who walks the extra mile with her students. She illustrates what we all need to do to transform our own teaching in higher education classes. Rather than use prescribed academic content knowledge and normative child development ideas, she forms a relationship with students that allows her to co-construct the curriculum with students’ life experiences and their knowledge of children’s diverse ways of being and knowing. She provides a narrative of her own, as well as her students’ journeys, including their resiliency, knowledge, and collective hopes for being teachers of young children. This book is filled with important lessons for those in higher education policy, teacher education, and early childhood education.” —Marianne (Mimi) Bloch, Professor Emerita, School of Education, University of Wisconsin–Madison

“With Living Stories, Susan Bernheimer has done it again. She has built on her 2003 book New Possibilities for Early Childhood Education to remind early childhood educators and practitioners that the world we live in has changed. It is no longer relevant or appropriate to expect to find education students in our classes who look like us, think like us, or share our worldview: they come from a very different and diverse world, and they are going to be our children’s teachers and caregivers from now on. The children of the world need first and foremost to find themselves reflected in the voices of their teachers, in the modified or non-standard curriculum those teachers bring to the classroom, in the very different routines from those of the past: line up, be quiet, raise your hand. Now it is perhaps, let’s go outside! Bernheimer’s books and especially this one must be included as companions to ‘the text’ of all teacher education. Future teachers in North America will not be adequately prepared for the classrooms they will encounter unless they read and reflect on the scenarios that Bernheimer so beautifully describes.” —Ailie Cleghorn, Graduate Program Director, Educational Studies, Department of Education, Concordia University (Montreal)