Indiana Reading Journal Volume 44 Issue 1 - Page 13

Additionally, multiple studies found that the students’ circumstances (i.e., socio-economic, language learner) had a large impact on how quickly the student made gains on in-school and state assessments (Craig, 2004, Dooley and Assaf, 2009, Ohanian and Kovacs, 2007). Ohanian and Kovacs aptly summarized the reasons it was so important to realize the effects of standards-based reform when they described teachers as “muzzled” and needing to find a way to break this silence. This work inspired me to move forward with a study to break this silence by giving voice to stories of teachers in Indiana.

This research study allowed me to illuminate the personal aspects of one teacher’s daily life. Adding personal vignettes of this teacher’s experiences enabled me to enhance the shared findings of the authors in this section in regards to lack of teacher autonomy in curricular decision making, increased stress level of teachers which sometimes resulted in decreased motivation and fear of job loss, and inability of schools to recognize that context and population matter.

Research Methodology

Role of the Researcher and Study Context

It is somewhat unique that I met Jane, the focus of this article, while teaching an online graduate class titled, Identifying and Working with Learner Literacy Differences. I was intrigued by the vitality of this unique space and the window it provided me into the life of this practicing teacher. The more I read about Jane’s triumphs and challenges in her classroom the more I wanted to know. I was particularly interested in the stories she told in this online space around literacy in the classroom. I was initially drawn to study the lives of these experienced teachers because of my own long history in the classroom. After reviewing the literature and discovering that the study of experienced teachers was more of an exception than a rule, I was even more dedicated to understanding the life of this teacher who had been in the profession over 20 years. As a teacher and a researcher, I felt it was imperative to closely reflect on my own teaching experiences (Glesne, 2006), and acknowledge I approached studying experienced teachers with my own insights from being a classroom teacher of twenty-two years and a teacher educator for the last six years. I viewed my roles in this study as a researcher, educator, and portraitist, as described in the words of Sarah Lawrence-Lightfoot (1997) in her life history work.

Jane had taught in an elementary setting for over 20 years. Most of her teaching had been in the building where she was during this study. She had taught many primary grades and seemed to enjoy talking about the differences between her early years of teaching and how it contrasted with her current teaching during her interviews. She talked a lot about how the population of the school had changed in the years she had been there. Although I would have described the school as being situated in a small city, Jane repeatedly referred to it as an urban environment. When I asked her about this, she said, “I believe our 95%-plus poverty and diversity are significant characteristics that cause me to label my school as urban.” Her story is particularly important in relation to recent laws passed in the state of the study for an additional high-stakes test for third graders.

Data Collection

The primary data sources for this study were a series of three in depth interviews, spread across a one-year time span. I interviewed Jane in her own classroom setting. Unique to my study, I used found poems (Dunning and Stafford, 1992, Gossard & Lewison, 1993) in which I selected powerful phrases from Jane’s online assignments and arranged her words in the form of a poem, capturing the essence of the author’s ideas and representative comments from the semester. These were used as a form of stimulated recall (Kagan, Krathwohl, and Miller, 1963) to begin the first in depth interview. In the next interview, participants drew a timeline of their teaching life inspired by Guenette and Marshall (2009) who assert timelines can assist the researcher in probing for many details as well as serve as a touch point for further and deeper reflection. Before the third interview, participants drew and colored a picture of their teaching life. In addition, data sources also included Jane’s online forum comments, video and audio recordings of interviews and my own reflective memos.