I enter the research equation as a white, middle-aged, middle-class woman. I have succeeded in the education system and hold a privileged position in society. As a consequence, I know that many of my life experiences are very different from those of my students. I try to keep this in mind and make the classroom a place where students and their lives are visible. The face that I teach in an institution rather than in a community-based program has had a profound effect on my work: for twenty-five years I have had a secure professional life that has allowed me to commit to long-term work projects and to focus on the work itself and not on securing funding for my program or my work; I have had supported professional development, curriculum development and preparation time. I love teaching very much. I passionately enjoy reading and discussing literature. I value exposing students to the human issues raised in various types of print material and engaging with them in the exploration of these concerns.
This particular research project was classroom based, and as a practitioner I was ideally located to conduct it in the setting of my everyday work. I was researching the effects of one new teaching strategy. This was not outside my expertise; it was within it. For most practitioners, it is always exciting to develop a technique that has positive outcomes in the classroom and then to share it with colleagues.
As learning outcomes are often qualitative, particularly in an English classroom, practitioners are well situated to observe the effects on the learning of a new teaching strategy. The ‘feel’ of the classroom, the level of discussion, writing, or student engagement can be compared within one classroom over time or from class to class over a career of teaching. Having more than twenty years of teaching experience to draw from, I felt that I could bring that experience, and the insights it affords, to this research question and effectively observe what happens that is different when the use of student narrative is introduced into an upgrading English class. The view from this position of practice is a privileged one and can enhance what we know about the classroom.
For this particular teaching strategy, the use of students’ personal narratives, trust must be established in the classroom in order to have the student narratives flow. Trust develops over time when people work together and commit to one another. My experience and my personal teaching philosophy make it both natural and essential to create such trust. Creating an effective emotional classroom environment, according to Jan Sawyer (Battell, Gesser, Rose, Sawyer, & Twiss, 2004), allows students to takes risks in their learning. As a practitioner working on a daily basis to establish such an atmosphere, I was well situated to conduct research that required the element of trust. The past reputation of an instructor also helps establish a trusting atmosphere for conducting research. In my experience, many students enter a classroom with an opinion of the instructor already beginning to form based on word-of-mouth assessment from other students. If students enter a classroom with a positive attitude about an instructor, from these word-of-mouth evaluations, then they are more willing to positively approach new learning experiences. Some degree of trust has already been established from the outset. And while an external researcher brings other qualities to the job, this factor of established trust places an experienced practitioner in a good position to conduct classroom research.