Teacher Inquiry: Self Preservation

This year was my first full year of teaching, and I couldn’t have felt more prepared to teach these youngsters all things fabulous than I did on the first day of school. I had received the absolute best training, read and studied all the best and newest research, and been mentored by the most fabulous teachers during my student teaching. And for the first few months, everything went great for me, I felt like I was doing an acceptable job. That’s not to say that there weren’t bumps in the road because there WERE bumps, but overall I felt like my kids were really getting what I was teaching them.

Then, it was time to write an argument essay, and by golly was I prepared. I had mentor texts, I had highlighters, I had standards typed up, and I was ready to go! Passionately I presented my kids with all of the materials I had so carefully planned. Surely these materials would help them write arguments with ease! Boy was I wrong. The kids were confused, mouthy, and downright ridiculous. It was the first moment this year that I thought “wow, what am I doing wrong?” The year had many more similar ups and downs, sometimes things went great and sometimes they spiraled out of control so fast I didn’t know what had hit me.

Because of this year’s experience, I’ve begun looking at a lot of research on the idea of teacher inquiry as a regular practice in classrooms around the U.S. Nancy Fichtman Dana, Belinda G. Gimbert, and Diane Yendol Silva define teacher inquiry best in their article “Teacher Inquiry as Professional Development for the 21st Century in the United States.” They say “the idea of inquiry embodies how teachers make explicit and probe their wanderings, reframe and modify their questions and enlighten their perceptions and sense-making of their classroom practice.” Teachers can and should be in charge of their own professional development- it’s how we grow.

The author’s of this article point out that for a long time educational decisions have been made based off of research conducted by people immersed in a world that is far from the classroom. But, when teachers live a life of inquiry, when they ask questions about problems that occur in their classrooms, they move education forward in a way that is specific to the real problems of education. We shouldn’t blindly follow the strategies handed to us by university scholars, so removed from the classroom. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t listen respectfully to what they have to say, but that there should be a balance between teachers as professional problem solvers and university scholars as educational researchers.

This next year, I’m going to live the life of the inquirer. I will ask questions and face classroom problems head on. I do not need strategies, or a textbook, or any sort of instruction manual beyond exploring the needs of my students and catering my research to those needs.

Will you join me in living the life of inquiry?