Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Teacher Research as a Feminist Act

Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Teacher Research as a Feminist Act

Article excerpt

Like many simple acts, then, teacher research is finally revolutionary. Based on the results of her research project, one teacher quietly drops basal readers and their workbooks, saying 'I didn't do one ditto.' ... These small acts, these little rebellions add up to a quiet assault on the entire educational hierarchy through the actions of individuals and the assertions by teachers in individual schools that they, not their supervisors or textbook companies, should determine the curricula for their subjects. (Bullock, 1987 p. 27)

As Bullock argues above, teacher research is revolutionary; it upsets the educational hierarchy, much like feminism upsets patriarchal hegemony. (1) Though most authors on teacher research say little about feminism and gender explicitly, feminism in "Teacher Research" expresses itself through book and article titles [e.g. Reclaiming The Classroom (Goswami & Stillman, 1987), Teachers Are Researchers (Patterson, Minnarik-Santa, Short, & Smith, 1993), Seeing For Ourselves (Bissex & Bullock, 1987)]. Theories framing teacher research echo themes of oppression, subordination, standpoint, situated knowledge, agency, subjectivity, objectivity and voice--all recurring themes in feminist theories.

In this article, I interpret the phenomenon of teacher research using feminist theories as a heuristic for analysis. I begin with definitions of teacher research. Following, I employ feminist theories to explain teacher research as an emancipatory act. Other feminist metaphors used in teacher research (e.g., transformative, collaborative) are detailed elsewhere (Christianakis, in review). Based on an inductive analysis of the literature, I discuss three arguments: (1) Teacher researchers define themselves; (2) Teacher researchers challenge the division of labor in the production of research; and (3) Teacher researchers challenge the primacy of academic research through the situated in the production of knowledge. The three arguments provide an organizing principle that underscores the complexity of the phenomenon and deepens understandings of teacher research and hierarchies in educational knowledge production.

I call upon feminist theories, not only because they are implicit in the emancipatory arguments, but also because they help conceptualize education using a different paradigm, one that includes marginalized voices--this case, teachers--the construction of knowledge. In this article, I am not searching for non-teacher villains, nor am I claiming that teachers are victims. Rather, I hope to show how higher education research practices, embedded in patriarchal privilege, serve to advance some voices and limit the validity and possibility of others.

Defining Teaching Research

Teacher research is "systematic and intentional inquiry carried out by teachers" (Cochran-Smith & Lytle 1993, p. 7). Teacher research serves different purposes. Some perceive it as an instrument to reform teaching practices and improve student performance (e.g. Bonner, 2006; Boomer, 1987; Levin & Merrit, 2006). Others propose it as a tool to reflect on teacher practices (e.g. Berthoff, 1987; Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1993; Eraut, 1995; Schon, 1995). Understanding diverse and multicultural school contexts has spawned much interest in teacher research (e.g., Dyson, 1993; Freedman et al., 1999; Heath, 1987). It serves as a vehicle for teachers to participate in a more democratic fashion in knowledge production on education (e.g., Bullock, 1987; Kuzmic, 2002). Common to all purposes is the goal to improve teaching and learning.

Teacher research doesn't always lead to immediate action, as with "action research"; the methods may differ. Teacher research need not "conform to the classic action research cycle: plan, act, observe, reflect, revise, plan" (Nias, 1991, p. 24), because research and classroom life are more complex. While teacher research reflects some of the same goals of action research, methodologically, it is less formulaic than the action research cycle:

Its aim is the improvement of these practices, understandings and situations, so that pupils' education may be enhanced and the overall quality of schools' educational provisions can be improved. …

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