Teacher as Researcher
A teacherís professional judgment has and will continue to be the most powerful instrument in a teacherís tool chest. A teacherís job can be likened to an air traffic controllerís job. There are many important concerns and details that scream for a teacherís attention all at once. The job would be demanding enough if the only issue were the delivery of content. But as we all know, this is only one of our myriad concerns. We must also deal with classroom discipline, student and public health, nutrition, social development, standardized tests, information and misinformation from a variety of sources, the individual demands from our studentsí parents and guardians, and the details that keep a school functioning. In short, we, like the air traffic controllers must keep everything organized and in order lest it all comes crashing down around us. There are many decisions to make, often within split seconds. So how are we to make informed, professional decisions? The difference between a good teacher and poorer teacher is not the control of content, because it should be a given that we are all experts in what we teach. What is at issue are the decisions we make when we design assessments, lessons, and curricula on an annual, weekly and daily basis. At good teacher makes informed, appropriate, and professional decisions, a poorer teacher does not.
With so much at stake, on what basis should we be making these important decisions? When the curriculum was simpler, when the teacher answered to no one but her or himself, when a teacherís judgment was basically unchallenged, the decision making process was a simpler process. Today, when information is available to all the stakeholders, we are not the only ones making judgments and decisions about our students, lessons, and classrooms.† Parents, students and administrators enter the dialogue with us as we design our classes. So how are we to make appropriate decisions? The answer is that we must become teacher-researchers.
Anyone shooting from the hip will only get so far in this modern world. We would not want our lawyers and surgeons making uniformed decisions about us. Relying on ďgutĒ feelings should not be the only basis from which we make decisions. If a physician based your entire prognosis and treatment on a gut feeling rather than research and data, you should be nervous. If we, teachers make decisions about our classrooms while ignoring valuable information and data, we should be equally disturbed.
Unlike our professional forbearers, we have information at our finger tips that was previously unavailable. Student information systems like PowerSchool †and EduSoft provide each classroom teacher with information hitherto reserved for administrators and counselors. Today, they are available with just a few clicks on our computers. We have data about students in our classes from the previous yearís standardized tests. We must not only analyze the results of our own classroom assessments, but we ought to make use of the results from other sources as well. †We must become researchers of our own studentsí performances. We should know how our students, classrooms and schools are being analyzed; in fact, we should be among the first to do the analysis. Being a teacher-researcher does not require a degree in statistics. It takes a bit of time and a bit of practice to comb through the data to make sense of them.†