Show Summary Details

Page of

 PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, EDUCATION (education.oxfordre.com). (c) Oxford University Press USA, 2016. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited. Please see applicable Privacy Policy and Legal Notice (for details see Privacy Policy).

date: 18 December 2017

Longitudinal Study of Teachers

Summary and Keywords

The longitudinal study of teachers gives a time perspective on the life and work of teachers, instead of just a snapshot at a particular point. The time period in question may be just a few intense months, as in some ethnographic research, or several decades, as in some life-history research. Longitudinal research is useful in exploring such topics as how teachers change and grow over their careers, changes in teachers’ professional satisfaction over the years, patterns of teacher retention and drop-out, the impact of teachers on their students over time, and the influence of preservice and/or in-service teacher education on teachers.

Continuous study of the same teachers over many years is challenging and accordingly not common. It is typically expensive and time-consuming, and extends beyond the time span of most research funding; moreover, many participants either leave the profession or move to other locations, making it difficult to keep in touch with them. Accordingly, additional ways to do longitudinal research need to be found: for example, studying teachers intensively for a shorter period; asking teachers to recall earlier phases in their life and/or career; or studying different cohorts of teachers at various career points (as in the classic Huberman study and parts of the U.K. VITAE research). Each of these methods has limitations but maintains the valuable outcome of providing a time perspective.

Where it can be arranged, however, interviewing the same teachers at intervals over several years has the advantage of enabling researchers to get to know the participants well. As a result, the researchers are in a better position to understand what the participants are saying in the interviews, and assess the veracity of their self-reporting about their views and practices, past and present. Also, a degree of trust is established such that the teachers are more likely to be frank about their feelings, challenges, and concerns. But one danger of the emerging relationship is that the support the relationship it provides may positively impact the teachers’ experience (e.g., helping them fine-tune their practice and maintain their morale to an unusually high level). This limitation has to be weighed against the advantages in deciding whether or not to use this approach to the longitudinal study of teachers.

Keywords: longitudinal research, teachers’, careers, lives of teachers, Huberman, teacher change, teaching, teachers, teacher effectiveness, teacher education effectiveness

What Is Longitudinal Study of Teachers?

There is some variation in use of the term “longitudinal” in the research literature; according to Ruspini (2002), it is “a rather imprecise term” (p. 3). Moreover, other words or expressions are frequently used instead. The term longitudinal does not occur often in handbooks and texts on research methods. A classic example of variation in usage is seen in relation to Huberman’s 1980s study of Swiss high school teachers. It is cited by many as iconic and ground-breaking longitudinal research (e.g., Day, Sammons, Stobart, Kington, & Gu, 2007; Rolls & Plauborg, 2009), whereas Huberman himself (1993) claimed that it was not “a genuinely longitudinal study” since it did not “follow the same cohort of teachers for 40 years”; instead, it was “really a cross-sectional study, i.e. one following different groups that traverse the same professional career” (p. 21). Ruspini (2002) takes a similar position to Huberman, suggesting that longitudinal research should be distinguished from cross-sectional research.

Whether it is possible to resolve the issue of usage, it is of value to look broadly at the types of study that have a time perspective and have been called longitudinal by at least some researchers. Menard (2002) defined longitudinal research as a “family of methods” rather than a unique design. This includes both studies that follow the same teacher or group of teachers over time and ones that are time-sensitive in other ways. This broad definitional approach is desirable for two reasons: (a) following the same teacher or teachers for a long period is often not feasible, and hence other methods of studying change over time need to be found; and (b) whatever label is used, it is important to identify the various types of time-sensitive study of teachers, assess their respective strengths and limitations, and consider possible ways to enhance them.

Types of Longitudinal Study of Teachers and Their Advantages and Disadvantages

Some types of research on teachers that have provided a time perspective and been referred to as longitudinal are inherently longitudinal (e.g., life histories); whereas others (e.g., case studies) may be longitudinal or not depending on how they are conducted. The types often overlap, and may be interpreted somewhat differently by different theorists. To give a brief overview, the advantages of longitudinal research include providing deeper understanding of teachers’ lives, contexts, and challenges and how and why their experience of teaching changes over time; greater insight into why teachers leave the profession or remain in it and how better to support them; and fuller knowledge of the relative effectiveness of various teachers and how to help them increase their effectiveness. However, longitudinal study of teachers has limitations, for example, of it often has a very small sample (even just one teacher), and so is not representative of the range of teachers and contexts; and when it has a large sample and so is more representative, it often fails to provide sufficient depth of understanding because of its reliance on surveys. It seems, then, that many forms of study—both longitudinal and nonlongitudinal—are needed to give adequate understanding of the professional and personal lives of teachers.

Life-History Research

Life-history study of teachers involves placing their careers in the context of their lives as a whole, often going back to childhood. Such research is heavily dependent on interviews or recorded personal reflections (e.g., journals, letters, and audio or video recordings or both). The research is usually embedded in distinctive epistemological assumptions, such as about the importance of honoring the personal perspective of study participants. According to Punch (2014), life-history research “can help greatly with understanding how the social context gets played out in individual lives” (pp. 157–158). Savin-Baden and Major (2013) state that life-history research relies on “sources such as in-depth interviewing and the author’s personal letters and diaries” (p. 162) and focuses on “the series of events that make up an individual’s life” (p. 233).

Muchmore’s (2004) book A Teacher’s Life presents the story of a teacher (pseudonym Anna), whom he first met when they were doctoral students together. Anna had been teaching high school for 25 years at that point and continued to teach full-time during her doctoral studies. Over more than five years, Muchmore interviewed Anna and observed in her classroom. He also “spoke with several of her friends, relatives, colleagues, and past and present students,” and was given access by her to “academic papers she had written throughout her career [and] copies of an assortment of professional documents—including newspaper clippings about her, and past and present evaluations of her teaching conducted by her supervisors” (p. x). The stated goal of Muchmore’s life history of Anna was “to provide readers with a general sense of who she was, where she came from, and how her life evolved—especially her life as a teacher” (p. xii). In Part 3 of the book is a section entitled “Childhood” in which he talks about how Anna’s home, community, and school environment helped foster the valuing of literacy and how her parents instilled in her “a sense of critical inquisitiveness about the world, and a sense of social responsibility” (pp. 84–86). In Part 2, he discusses the nature of life-history research, including its emphasis on interpretation, especially by the teachers themselves, explaining why in his view it is such a fruitful approach. He contrasts his study of Anna with an earlier large-scale survey he had conducted of more than 1,200 teachers. With respect to the latter he noted:

I became increasingly aware that there was something fundamentally wrong with a research methodology that transformed teachers’ beliefs and practices into a collection of numbers and analyzed them using statistics. … Although I was able to determine general trends for a large number of teachers, I learned nothing about the specific nature of the relationship between their beliefs and practices and how they experienced this relationship on an individual level.

(pp. 62–63)

The advantages of life-history studies are clear. They make it possible to understand much more fully which aspects of teachers’ preservice preparation are helpful and which are not; why they remain in or leave the profession; and the various factors in their effectiveness or ineffectiveness as teachers. However, life-history research also has limitations. It relies heavily on self-reporting and memories from the distant past, and it is so detailed that only one or a few teachers can be studied, raising questions about the generalizability of the findings. Furthermore, the objectivity of the research may also be queried, given the special relationship between the researcher and the teacher(s). Of course, some researchers see this relationship as an advantage, providing greater trust and deeper understanding; however, the issue of the impact of the study itself on the participants needs to be faced.

Case-Study Research

Case studies of teachers are similar to life histories in that the focus is usually on one or a small number of teachers, studied in depth. However, case studies need not be longitudinal. Cooper, Glaesser, Gomm, and Hammersley (2012) distinguish between diachronic (through time) and synchronic (one point in time) case studies. Moreover, case studies need not involve connecting the professional to the personal, and they are more varied than life histories in their epistemological assumptions. According to Stake (2006), a researcher “may spend a long or short time on a case, but works vigorously to understand each particular case” (p. 1). He notes that a case is an “entity” rather than a process; however, “some qualitative studies investigate a collection of events or series of instances” within a case (p. 2).

A common type of longitudinal case study in education focuses on just one teacher. Muchmore’s life history of Anna might be described as a case study, though it is unusually comprehensive for a case study. Bullough (1989) said of his book First-Year Teacher: A Case Study that it “presents a case study of the first year (and first semester of the second year) of teaching by a seventh-grade public school teacher” (real name Kerrie Baughman; p. xi). The case study was longitudinal, not only because it was conducted over three semesters, but also because it referred often to Kerrie’s experiences in her preparation program and earlier. The study continued when Bullough again engaged in extensive study of Kerrie in her fifth, seventh, and eighth years of teaching (Bullough & Baughman, 1997, 2008a, 2008b). In the seventh year, the authors describe their inquiry as a longitudinal case study of teacher development and note that they used established case-study methods, including classroom observations every week and semistructured interviews every three weeks.

Another longitudinal case study of one teacher (pseudonym “Kay”) is provided by Schoonmaker (2002). The research occurred over Kay’s first 10 years of teaching, all spent at the same school except for the final year. Schoonmaker does not talk much about the research process or her own role in it, noting that she “tried to remain in the background [because] the story is not about me” (p. x). However, she says, “Kay’s story is told through her own memories, papers she wrote while she was studying to become a teacher, her student teaching journal, observations of her in action with children and student teachers, and conversations” (p. x). The second and third chapters of the book examine Kay’s “earliest recollections of school,” which show the “personal knowledge” she brought to her teacher preparation (p. 17). A major focus of the book is the constant interweaving of three key influences on Kay’s practice: her personal knowledge, what she learned in her preservice program, and her experiences as a teacher.

Case studies often seek less detail on each teacher than do life histories, and so have the advantage that more teachers can be studied. Moreover, case-study research can be more focused, pursuing specific lines of inquiry and testing particular theoretical assumptions. However, the reduced detail results in less depth of understanding of teachers’ ideas, practices, and trajectory; and in most case studies, the sample of teachers is still relatively small and hence insufficiently representative. As with life-history research, there are debates about objectivity since researchers and teachers engaged in qualitative case-study research typically form quite a close bond.

Ethnographic Research

Ethnographic research is conducted in a specific context (e.g., a teacher’s classroom, the school staffroom, the whole school) and usually employs participant observation: the researcher spends a great deal of time in the context and to a degree becomes part of it. Ethnography is, again, a kind of case-study research; however, like the life history, it often goes beyond case study in the detail of the data gathered. Ethnographic research is necessarily longitudinal since the process involved in gaining such detailed knowledge takes time, though given the intensity of the study, the time period may be no more than several months. Some ethnographic studies are longitudinal in a true sense because the extended data collection is used not only to obtain deep understanding of the context (and the people in it) but also to observe changes over time. As with life-history research, certain distinctive epistemological assumptions underlie ethnographic research; for example, it may be phenomenological, interpretivist, postmodernist, or constructivist.

Savin-Baden and Major (2013) have noted that “early ethnography emerged from anthropological studies that sought to understand other cultures, countries and ways of life” (p. 195). These studies were, however, often criticized for privileging Western values and practices, and in the 1930s and 1940s ethnography was influenced by “interpretive interactionists” who advocated combining “scientific” study of human behavior with observational approaches in local settings (p. 196). As it is understood today, the key principles of ethnography include the “immersion of the researcher” in the setting being studied, “in-depth and unstructured data collection,” and the “presentation of findings from the participants’ point of view” (p. 197). Immersion of the researcher and intense study over time allow for “extensive and in-depth findings about human behavior” and “confirmation of participants’ behavior, not merely espoused behavior that is often found when using interviews and questionnaires” (pp. 207–208). Punch (2009) has noted that “ethnographic data collection will typically be prolonged and repetitive. … It takes time for a researcher to gain access to the deeper and most important levels of this reality” (p. 128). Regarding the use of ethnography in research on education, he comments:

With the culture and subculture of education as a profession, of teachers and teaching, of schools and classrooms, of children and youth groups, there is both ample scope and an important contribution for the ethnographic approach in education research.

(p. 129)

Using an ethnographic approach, Jennings and Mills (2009) carried out an investigation of inquiry-based practices throughout one school over a five-year period. The authors worked collaboratively with the teachers to collect two data sets through participant observations, nonparticipant observations, and student artifacts. The first data set focused on understanding classroom practices across six grades; the second followed the same cohort of students and their three teachers from kindergarten to Grade 4. The analysis focused on teacher discourse that facilitated inquiry practices in the classroom and student-teacher interactions. The findings describe six inquiry practices in the classroom that included academic and social practices. Though the findings are not organized chronologically (e.g., inquiry practices at kindergarten, Grade 1, and so on), the vignettes illustrate how sometimes an inquiry practice develop into another from one grade to the next.

Within a specific school context, longitudinal ethnographies can also focus on a group of teachers. This is the case with Horn, Nolen, Ward, and Campbell’s (2008) study of eight student teachers over the course of their teacher education program. Horn et al. (2008) were interested in student teachers’ identity development during a teacher education program. Using a “longitudinal person-centered ethnography” (p. 61), the researchers observed and interviewed the student teachers during their coursework and in school placements. The findings provide an account of the changes in teacher identity over time and how these shape, and are shaped by, the kinds of learning opportunities the student teachers have.

Ethnographic research has an advantage in that it represents the complexity of teaching contexts and can provide deep understanding of teachers and teaching. Moreover, immersion in the context being studied affords the researcher intimate access to the phenomena in question. But like life-history and qualitative case-study research, ethnography has a disadvantage in that it is very time-consuming and expensive and so can study just one teacher or a small group of teachers. Again, opinions vary about the strengths and limitations of the ethnographic research approach. Some argue that it is preferable to focus on just a few elements in a situation because it results in greater precision, whereas ethnographers maintain that such precision is illusory because it does not capture the complex reality of teaching. Others believe that participant observation results in a loss of objectivity, whereas ethnographers believe such observation heightens objectivity because the phenomena can be studied more closely. A further area of disagreement is over whether the participants’ viewpoint should be privileged to the extent that it is in an ethnographic approach.

Quantitative Teacher Effectiveness Research

Life-history, case-study, and ethnographic methods may be used in the longitudinal study of teacher effectiveness to determine, for example, how and why effectiveness increases, plateaus, or declines over time. However, these are all qualitative methods, and it is important to consider the potential value of quantitative longitudinal research on teacher effectiveness. In their edited volume, Chapman, Armstrong, Harris, Muijs, Reynolds, and Sammons (2012) discuss quantitative research on school effectiveness. Their central concern is with system effectiveness, but they see this as including research on teachers. For example, in her contribution to that work, Sammons (2012) stresses the need to study “the variation between schools, departments and teachers in their effects on students’ outcomes” (p. 9); and Kyriakides (2012) notes that methodological advances “have enabled more efficient estimates of teacher and school differences in student achievement” (p. 44).

Chapman et al. (2012) and other contributors to the volume emphasize the need for the quantitative study of schools, including teacher effectiveness that is longitudinal in nature. Sammons (2012) advocates “exploring student progress over the longer term across different phases of education to establish the extent, nature and cumulative impact of educational influences” (p. 25). Kyriakides (2012) describes a sequence of two longitudinal studies of a group of schools that measured “teacher and school effectiveness” and identified many of the “effectiveness factors” at work (pp. 54–55). In the conclusion to the book, Chapman et al. give an example of a large-scale five-year study in over 80 secondary schools that showed “associations between various school-level and classroom-level factors and pupil gain over time” (p. 235).

However, although they advocate the use of quantitative methods in the study of school and teacher effectiveness, Chapman et al. (2012) maintain that much of the past and present research in this area has been too simplistic. For example, Muijs (2012) says that “our field appears to rely on a limited range of data collection methods, in particular surveys and secondary datasets” (p. 63). Similarly, Sammons (2012) comments that “it is unfortunate that raw results are still used as the main means of judging school performance and continues to penalize schools serving disadvantaged communities”; she opposes reliance on “any one measure … to evaluate schools” (p. 13).

To address the problem of oversimplification in effectiveness research, the authors advocate (a) using mixed or multiple methods of research, (b) exploring a variety of factors that bear on effectiveness, and (c) studying many kinds of student outcomes in addition to academic achievement, narrowly conceived. Chapman et al. (2012) in their conclusion propose the use of mixed or multiple methods, where “the quantitative and qualitative strands of inquiry occur in parallel and are drawn together in a final analysis” (p. 234). Sammons (2012) says that what is needed “large-scale longitudinal research that recognizes the complexity and hierarchical structure of most educational systems,” with student outcomes being “linked to neighbourhoods, schools or classes” (p. 12). Further, apart from exploring different levels of influence, effectiveness research “should investigate a wider range of student outcomes, including goals of citizenship, social cognition and well-being, as well as … academic outcomes” (p. 23).

Research on the Impact of Preservice and In-Service Teacher Education

An important type of longitudinal study is research on the influence on teachers of their professional education, whether preservice or in-service. Such research can be shorter or longer in duration, and either qualitative, quantitative, or mixed method). On the qualitative front, we have already seen how life-history and case-study research can illuminate the place of teacher education in a teacher’s life and career. Muchmore (2004), Bullough and Baughman (1997), and Schoonmaker (2002) all concluded that while formal preservice teacher education had a substantial impact on the teachers they studied, other factors—notably their prior life experiences and subsequent learning while teaching—were at least as powerful.

Turning to quantitative research, a growing practice in the early 21st century is to assess the effectiveness of preservice teacher education programs by studying the standardized test scores of the pupils of program graduates. Tatto (2013) notes the increasing requirement in the United States that preservice programs “demonstrate their graduates’ ability to teach before and immediately after graduation and even several years beyond, using pupils’ achievement results as the main outcome” (p. 17). Richmond, Bartell, and Dunn (2016) discuss what are called “value-added models” that “seek to link [teacher preparation] program impact with the test scores of program graduates’ students” (p. 103). And Wiseman (2012) in the United States has reported:

RTTT [Race to the Top] and other statewide movements are continually moving teacher education programs toward participation in statewide data systems and insisting that the profession find ways to measure the impact of teacher education programs on PreK-12 student learning [often leading to] teacher education “report cards.”

(p. 88)

With regard to in-service professional development, research on program effectiveness has typically not been conducted on such a large scale or been as widespread. Strong (2009) noted, “The evidence is by no means overwhelming that induction and mentoring programs influence more than teachers’ sense of well-being and their rates of attrition, and is very scant on the outcomes of student achievement and teacher practice” (p. 103). However, qualitative research on teachers often examines, among other things, the impact of in-service learning activities on the teachers studied. Beck and Kosnik (2014), in their longitudinal study of teachers, asked the participants every year about the nature and value of their in-service professional development experiences. Bryk, Gomez, Grunow, and LeMahieu (2015) have noted that a large networked improvement community (NIC) project in Austin, Texas, “introduced a short survey for new teachers to complete every six weeks” on the helpfulness of the feedback they were receiving from “various people supporting their growth” (p. 137).

Quantitative longitudinal studies of teachers—for example, of their effectiveness as practitioners or how they have been influenced by their preservice or in-service teacher education—are potentially very valuable because large numbers of teachers can be studied across different grade levels, types of schools, socioeconomic contexts, and so forth. However, when data are gathered using surveys or secondary records instead of interviews or observation, the research is limited in the amount of information and understanding it can provide. In the area of teacher effectiveness, for example, the use of their students standardized test results as the basis for teachers’ assessment may be questioned on the ground that only certain dimensions of what students learn in class are factored in, and usually only in certain subjects (typically, literacy and math). Again, while Chapman et al. (2012) are advocates of quantitative longitudinal research on teacher effectiveness (as a subtopic within the broader topic of school effectiveness), they stress the complexity of schooling and the need for research approaches that investigate a range of input and output components of teaching and learning.

Apart from the complexity issue, it is important to note that surveys depend just as much as interviews on self-reporting and that participants may respond in ways they perceive to be desirable rather than completely truthfully (although the anonymity of surveys helps here); moreover, different respondents may understand survey questions differently. The hope is that in-depth and repeated interviewing, by contrast, will give researchers greater opportunity to ensure that the questions are understood and a more adequate basis for assessing the genuineness of the responses. Another caution with respect to both surveys and interviews is that responses must be interpreted by the researcher, who may be influenced by theoretical assumptions and other types of biases. Survey studies may not be as detached and “scientific” as they seem.

Large-Scale Cross-Sectional Research

Cross-sectional research involves collecting data at one point—or sometimes a few points—in time. Such research can be longitudinal in two main ways. On the one hand, two (or more) waves of data collection can occur—with different participants in each wave—to explore how teachers and their situations have changed from one time period to the other. For example, in 1984 and 1985, Cohn and Kottkamp conducted a large-scale study “to explore how powerful social changes over two decades had affected teachers” in Dade County, Florida; the “benchmark for assessing change” was Dan Lortie’s 1964 study (Reported in Lortie, 1975), also in Dade County, of “the ‘ethos’ of being a teacher” (Cohn & Kottkamp, 1993, pp. xvi–xvii). The researchers interviewed 72 teachers and surveyed 2,718 teachers and 177 principals, all in Dade County (p. xxi). They commented, “Although the key insights come primarily from interviews, the surveys make a significant contribution to our argument” (p. xix).

On the other hand, a cross-sectional study may be longitudinal in that it collects data at one moment in time from different experience groups and then uses a longitudinal framework—notably career phases—to analyze the data. This was the approach taken by Huberman in his cross-sectional study of teachers’ career phases. According to Huberman (1993), most cross-sectional life-cycle research has taken the form of either a survey—with a sample of several thousand—or an “in-depth study of a dozen to twenty persons” using a “non-directive interview” or a first-person “oral history” account (p. 24). By contrast, he and his team chose “a more original but also more difficult genre by combining aspects of the survey with those of the in-depth interview” (p. 24). The randomly selected sample consisted of 160 Swiss teachers: 88 middle school and 72 high school teachers, located mainly in the Geneva area, with a wide range of experience as follows: 5–10 years (39), 11–19 years (61), 20–29 years (34), and 30–39 years (25). The same interview schedule was used for all teachers and contained 14 questions. Although some of the questions were “tightly structured” or “standardized” and yielded survey-type data, most allowed for extensive probing around a theme with the result that “the interview lasted between three and nine hours, often in two separate sessions” (Huberman, 1993, pp. 24–25).

The 2001–2005 U.K.-based VITAE study (Variations in Teachers’ work, lives And Effectiveness) was also both quantitative and qualitative, resulting in considerable depth of knowledge of each teacher. Of the 300 participants, 75 were primary teachers, and 75 were secondary; they ranged in experience from 0–4 years to 20-plus years. In a sense, the study was “more” longitudinal than Huberman’s in that, instead of just a single (though very lengthy) interview, there was “in-depth data collection for a duration of three years [from all] participating teachers … in a total of six interviews … together with school level data, pupil focus group and questionnaire data, [and] contextual … and value added analyses of pupil attainment and progress,” spread over the same three years (Day et al., 2007, p. 43). These data together provided a basis for “estimates of teachers’ relative effectiveness for particular pupil outcomes (English and mathematics), and enabled the combination of context and cohort specific factors” in both their effectiveness and career trajectory (Day et al., 2007, p. 43).

Despite being largely cross-sectional, the Huberman and VITAE studies yielded many important findings regarding the career trajectories of teachers and the factors involved. A key finding of both studies was that different teachers go through markedly different phases, although there was more similarity across teachers in some matters than others. Both studies also found a degree of tailing off in late career but, again, with many exceptions and some difficulties of interpretation of just what this means. The major foci of Huberman’s study were determining the reasons for variations in the career paths from one teacher to another and trying to understand the common “retreat to the classroom” among late-career teachers; whereas the key concerns of the VITAE study were the links between teacher “resilience,” effectiveness, and retention and the role of school support and other factors in facilitating teacher resilience.

Extensive cross-sectional studies of teachers of the type discussed here have the advantage in that they can provide a much broader perspective on career patterns than can most life-history studies, case-studies, or ethnographic research. Cross-sectional studies are widely regarded as powerful and significant, partly because of the large samples involved. For example, within the late-career group, Huberman was able to distinguish between those who continued to grow markedly and those who did not, whereas earlier research with smaller samples had not identified such differences.

However, cross-sectional research is very expensive and can rarely be done on this scale. Furthermore, interpretation is still involved. For example, how do we interpret the tendency of many late-career teachers to disengage from the wider school community and experiment in the classroom (Huberman, 1989)? Are they in fact detaching from teaching, as Huberman was inclined to think, or are they—as a result of the painful experience of ever-changing fads and top-down professional development PD—making a wise choice to focus more on their teaching and inquiry in the classroom? Very able younger teachers sometimes make precisely the same choice. Unpacking this phenomenon requires in-depth knowledge of the motivations of teachers, the nature of teaching, the school context, and the type of PD commonly conducted.

Longitudinal Study of the Same Teacher or Teachers

Another key type of longitudinal study of teachers studies the same teacher or teachers over time, by contrast with cross-sectional studies, such as those of Cohn and Kottkamp, Huberman, and (in part) the VITAE researchers. As noted earlier, Huberman (1993) saw many advantages in studying the same teachers over the years, describing it as “genuine” longitudinal research; Ruspini (2002) takes a similar position. And even though studying the same teachers for an extended period is often not feasible and alternative methods therefore need to be found, it is nevertheless important to consider the distinctive features of studies that follow the same teachers.

Of course, life-history and case-study research, as already noted, often follows the same teachers over time: Muchmore (2004) gathered data on the same teacher for six years; Bullough (Bullough & Baughmann, 1997), for 10 years; and Schoonmaker (2002), for 10 years. But such research still relies rather heavily on what teachers remember from the distant past. By contrast, other methods of studying the same teachers over time reduce the dependence on memory by studying the teachers while they are going through the phases under consideration. These methods may be quantitative, qualitative, or a combination of the two. In terms of quantitative research of this kind, large-scale surveys of the same teachers can be conducted at regular intervals, as in the case of the NIC project described by Bryk et al. (2015). VITAE is also an example of a large-scale study in which the same teachers were interviewed for three years, although the career phases they were asked about extended beyond those three years.

On a smaller scale (in terms of sample size), Cochran-Smith et al. (2012) followed the same 15 beginning teachers over four years, focusing on their experiences and development over that period. The authors describe the study as qualitative and longitudinal and argue for the importance of such research; data sources included extensive observation and interviews and samples of student work. The study sought to distinguish between different types of career trajectory and to explore the impact of the teachers’ emerging identities and outlooks on the quality of their teaching. The main findings included the following: there is need for more adequate admission processes for initial teacher education programs and better assessment during the program; early teaching is very tough, and new teachers need more support and PD; different teachers develop in very different ways; good teachers continue to learn while teaching; and different teachers need different forms of support and PD.

Beck and Kosnik have been studying one cohort of 20 teachers (originally 22) since 2004 and another of 20 (originally 23) since 2007. Toward the end of each school year, they conduct a classroom visit that is followed by a one-hour interview. The interview questions are modified somewhat from year to year, but in a given year all participants are asked the same questions—though with considerable room for probing. Many questions include a quantitative component (e.g., How would you rate your motivation/satisfaction for the year on a scale of 1 to 5?), together with an open-ended component (e.g., Please explain why.). The project will continue for at least until 2020. Apart from articles and conference papers, two books based on the project have been published—Priorities in Teacher Education (Kosnik & Beck, 2009) and Growing as a Teacher (Beck & Kosnik, 2014)—written after three years and eight years of the study, respectively. As the title suggests, the first book considered the implications of the study for initial teacher education as the teachers (just those in the first cohort) looked back on their preservice preparation and discussed their first three years of teaching. The second book focused on both cohorts’ development over eight and five years, respectively. After 12 years, one of the main findings so far is that the teachers learn a considerable amount informally in the classroom, usually more than through formal PD opportunities; another is that their motivation and satisfaction on average remained fairly high over these years.

Longitudinal research that involves following the same teachers over an extended period has much to offer. For example, where it uses interviews and observation, the researchers and participants can get to know each other well, and a relationship of trust and openness can develop. In addition, with regular interviews there is less reliance on memory of the distant past (although self-reporting is still involved): the participants talk about the phases of their careers while they are going through them. Also, participants can read and give feedback on their interview transcripts and on interim project reports. Above all, over the years there is steady deepening of the researchers’ understanding of the participants and their situations, challenges, and development.

But the disadvantages of such research must also be acknowledged. Menard (2002) and Ruspini (2002) note that high attrition—and the impossibility of replacing participants who leave—limits the effectiveness of following the same teachers over time. Again, because of the cost of studying the same teachers year after year, sample sizes tend to be small to modest. Cochran-Smith et al. (2012) had just 15 participants over a four-year period; and the Beck and Kosnik study, though unusually large, has only 40 participants (originally only 45), and nearly all are teaching in just three metropolitan areas or regions in two countries. This raises questions about representativeness and generalizability. Moreover, in the unusual case when these somewhat larger samples are possible, the increased number of participants makes substantial classroom observation virtually impossible. In the Beck and Kosnik study, for example, resources do not permit observing the teachers for more than a few hours a year. This heightens dependence on teacher self-reporting, but there is no alternative: to explore the same broad range of matters through observation would require dozens of hours per year in every teacher’s classroom. Classroom observations are conducted—out of respect for the teachers, to get to know them and their context better, and to get some sense of how candid they are in the interviews. But the interviews are necessarily the main data source. Finally, following the same teachers for many years results in a close relationship between teachers and researchers and thus raises the question of objectivity, as already noted.

Conclusion and Future Directions

The longitudinal study of teachers is worthwhile because there are many time-related aspects of teachers’ work and lives that need to be understood. These include learning how teachers change and grow over the years; whether and to what extent their effectiveness changes; who leaves or remains in the profession and why; how to support teachers and, in particular, how to increase teacher retention; and both the short- and long-term impact of preservice and in-service teacher education programs.

However, there are many different ways of conducting longitudinal research, and each has its strengths and limitations. Qualitative longitudinal studies of the same teacher(s)—whether one, a few, 15, or 40—provide a great many insights; but they are so expensive and time-consuming and thus they cannot be our only source of time-related knowledge of teachers. And given the relatively small sample of most studies of this kind, they are not representative enough to cover the broad spectrum of teachers’ lives and careers. Moreover, since even these studies rarely last more than 5 or 10 years, they cannot give a picture of a typical 40-year teaching career. Even the Beck and Kosnik study, which is an unusually long one, is only planned for 16 years.

Accordingly, it is also important to conduct quantitative longitudinal studies of teachers, with large samples of different kinds of teachers who work in settings that, in turn, differ by type of school, grade level, country, region, wealth, ethnicity, and so forth. However, as we take up large-scale quantitative study of teachers, it is important to tread carefully, not seeing it as a silver bullet that will give all the insight we need. Large-scale quantitative study also has limitations. For example, increasing sample size typically results in decreased opportunity to ask more than brief survey questions, the meanings of which are not always clear and the responses to which are often ambiguous. In the case of teacher effectiveness research in particular, relying just on student test scores means taking account of only a small part of what teachers do and what students learn in their complex interactions with teachers.

Looking to the future, we suggest the following measures to enhance the study of teachers:

  1. 1. Bring together insights from both qualitative and quantitative longitudinal research on teachers. As Muijs (2012) has stated, quantitative methods need to be complemented with qualitative methods, “where researchers spend more time in the schools they are researching, either through longitudinal case studies or more ethnographic methods … coupled with a greater variety of data collection methods” (p. 65). More recently, Cooper et al. (2012) and Pring (2015) have questioned the very distinction between qualitative and quantitative research, since both types of research involve making assumptions, interpreting data, using self-reports, generalizing from limited data, and so forth. Instead of seeing one type of research as rigorous but narrow and the other as broad but of dubious status, we need to take advantage of every data source available in trying to understand the complex reality of teachers and teaching. In the study conducted by Beck and Kosnik they have over the years steadily increased the number of quantitative questions asked, finding that on certain matters quantitative questions can help clarify the situation and aid in presenting findings. As Saldaña (2003) has said, “Numerical data representing various types of changes over time are valuable pieces of information for assessing [longitudinal matters]. … Qualitative researchers should … regard them as one valuable source of information … to support, corroborate, and springboard into qualitative observation of change” (p. 46).

  2. 2. Bring together findings from longitudinal research and other kinds of research on teachers. Similarly, we should not place too much emphasis on longitudinal research. Such research has definite advantages; but one of the main ones is that it enables us to get to know teachers and their situation, and this can be achieved through other types of research as well.

  3. 3. Listen to teachers more. As Cohn and Kottkamp (1993) emphasized, teachers are “the missing voice in teaching.” In attempting to be “scientific” and “objective,” researchers have sometimes kept a distance from the teachers they are studying. But this is self-defeating, since a scientific study of teachers requires getting the “inside story” on their experience. Teaching is incredibly complex, and to think it can figured by as outsiders using a set of “indicators” is naïve. Of course, it would be a mistake to go to the other extreme and fail to critique what teachers say. A balance is needed. While as Saldaña (2003) says that we should “be cautious of maintaining allegiance to what we, rather than our participants, perceive as important or salient in their lives” (p. 34), equally we should try to assess their self-reports in light of what other teachers say, what students, principals, parents, and other parties say, and what is suggested by relevant theories in the field.

  4. 4. Rely more on what “makes sense”. Empirical study of teachers is crucial because it goes into the field, where researcher are exposed to the realities of teaching: Academic theorizing has often been relied on too much. However, a purely “data-driven” approach is also inadequate. As has been shown, whether small-scale or large-scale, longitudinal or not, all studies of teachers are limited in scope and so cannot on their own provide solutions. Instead, all available data and ideas need to be brought to bear in judging what teachers should think and do. And of course, these judgments must in turn be evaluated, once again, drawing on both empirical and other considerations.

  5. 5. Fine-tune longitudinal study along the way. Because of the twists and turns of longitudinal study over time, it is difficult to plan it completely in advance. However, this should not be seen as a fatal flaw of longitudinal study. Huberman (1993) talks almost apologetically of a “problem” in his research design—namely, that “there was practically no a priori standardization of [the] data. We did not, for example, ask our informants to choose a single leitmotif from a pre-established list” (p. 90). Rather, “several phases … frequently surfaced [which] lent some validity to their use as prime landmarks in career paths” (p. 90). One wonders if Huberman’s study would have been so valuable if he had tried to standardize the themes beforehand! Similarly, in Beck and Kosnik have introduced changes to their longitudinal study of teachers over the years, such as using more quantitative questions and varying the questions more systematically from one year to the next, for example, asking certain questions regularly every two years. Saldaña (2003) has discussed this type of change in methods over time, arguing that though one needs to articulate the reasons for the modifications, they do not necessarily compromise the trustworthiness of the study. However, it seems clear that such modification along the way is crucial to effective longitudinal research, as illustrated by the outstanding contribution of Huberman’s longitudinal study of teachers.

Further Reading

Bayer, M., Brinkkjaer, U., Plauborg, H., & Rolls, S. (Eds.). (2009). Teachers’ career trajectories and work lives. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer.Find this resource:

Beck, C., & Kosnik, C. (2014). Growing as a teacher: Goals and pathways of ongoing teacher learning. Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense.Find this resource:

Bullough, R. (1989). First-year teacher: A case study. New York: Teachers College.Find this resource:

Bullough, R. (2008). Counternarratives: Studies of teacher education and becoming and being a teacher. Albany: State University of New York Press.Find this resource:

Bullough, R., & Baughman, K. (1997). First-year teacher eight years later: An inquiry into teacher development. New York: Teachers College.Find this resource:

Chapman, C., Armstrong, P., Harris, A., Muijs, D., Reynolds, D., & Sammons, P. (Eds.). (2012). School effectiveness and improvement research, policy and practice: Challenging the orthodoxy? London: Routledge.Find this resource:

Cochran-Smith, M., McQuillan, P., Mitchell, K., Terrell, D., Barnett, J., D’Souza, L., et al. (2012). A longitudinal study of teaching practice and early career decisions: A cautionary tale. American Educational Research Journal, 49, 844–880.Find this resource:

Cohn, M., & Kottkamp, R. (1993). Teachers: The missing voice in education. Albany: State University of New York Press.Find this resource:

Cooper, B., Glaesser, J., Gomm, R., & Hammersley, M. (2012). Challenging the qualitative-quantitative divide: Explorations in case-focused causal analysis. London: Continuum.Find this resource:

Day, C., & Gu, Q. (2014). Resilient teachers, resilient schools: Building and sustaining quality in testing times. London: Routledge.Find this resource:

Day, C., Sammons, P., Stobart, G., Kington, A., & Gu, Q. (2007). Teachers matter: Connecting lives, work, and effectiveness. Maidenhead, U.K.: Open University Press.Find this resource:

Huberman, M. (1989). The professional life cycle of teachers. Teachers College Record, 91, 31–57.Find this resource:

Huberman, M. (1993). The lives of teachers (J. Neufeld, Trans.). New York: Teachers College.Find this resource:

Jennings, L., & Mills, H. (2009). Constructing a discourse of inquiry: Findings from a five-year ethnography at one elementary school. Teachers College Record, 111, 1583–1618.Find this resource:

Kosnik, C., & Beck, C. (2009). Priorities in teacher education: The 7 key elements of preservice preparation. London: Routledge.Find this resource:

Menard, S. (2002). Longitudinal research (2d ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.Find this resource:

Muchmore, J. (2004). A teacher’s life: Stories of literacy, teacher thinking, and professional development. San Francisco: Caddo Gap.Find this resource:

Punch, K. (2009). Introduction to research methods in education. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.Find this resource:

Ruspini, E. (2002). Introduction to longitudinal research. New York: Routledge.Find this resource:

Saldaña, J. (2003). Longitudinal qualitative research: Analyzing change through time. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira.Find this resource:

Savin-Baden, M., & Major, C. H. (2013). Qualitative research: The essential guide to theory and practice. London: Routledge.Find this resource:

Schoonmaker, F. (2002). “Growing up” teaching: From personal knowledge to professional practice. New York: Teachers College.Find this resource:

Stake, R. (2006). Multiple case study analysis. New York: Guilford.Find this resource:

Strong, M. (2009). Effective teacher induction and mentoring: Assessing the evidence. New York: Teachers College.Find this resource:

Wiseman, D. (2012). The intersection of policy, reform, and teacher education. Journal of Teacher Education, 63(2), 87–91.Find this resource:

References

Beck, C., & Kosnik, C. (2014). Growing as a teacher: Goals and pathways of ongoing teacher learning. Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense.Find this resource:

Bryk, A., Gomez, L., Grunow, A., & LeMahieu, P. (2015). Learning to improve: How America’s schools can get better at getting better. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.Find this resource:

Bullough, R. (1989). First-year teacher: A case study. New York: Teachers College.Find this resource:

Bullough, R., & Baughman, K. (1997). First-year teacher eight years later: An inquiry into teacher development. New York: Teachers College.Find this resource:

Bullough, R., & Baughman, K. (2008a). Continuity and change in teacher development: First-year teacher after five years. In R. Bullough (Ed.), Counternarratives: Studies of teacher education and becoming and being a teacher (pp. 119–131). Albany: State University of New York Press.Find this resource:

Bullough, R., & Baughman, K. (2008b). Changing contexts and expertise in teaching: First-year teacher after seven years. In R. Bullough (Ed.), Counternarratives: Studies of teacher education and becoming and being a teacher (pp. 133–157). Albany: State University of New York Press.Find this resource:

Chapman, C., Armstrong, P., Harris, A., Muijs, D., Reynolds, D., & Sammons, P. (Eds.). (2012). School effectiveness and improvement research, policy and practice: Challenging the orthodoxy? London: Routledge.Find this resource:

Cochran-Smith, M., McQuillan, P., Mitchell, K., Terrell, D., Barnett, J., D’Souza, L., et al. (2012). A longitudinal study of teaching practice and early career decisions: A cautionary tale. American Educational Research Journal, 49, 844–880.Find this resource:

Cohn, M., & Kottkamp, R. (1993). Teachers: The missing voice in education. Albany: State University of New York Press.Find this resource:

Cooper, B., Glaesser, J., Gomm, R., & Hammersley, M. (2012). Challenging the qualitative-quantitative divide: Explorations in case-focused causal analysis. London: Continuum.Find this resource:

Day, C., Sammons, P., Stobart, G., Kington, A., & Gu, Q. (2007). Teachers matter: Connecting lives, work, and effectiveness. Maidenhead, U.K.: Open University Press.Find this resource:

Horn, I. S., Nolen, S. B., Ward, C., & Campbell, S. S. (2008). Developing practices in multiple worlds: The role of identity in learning to teach. Teacher Education Quarterly, 35(3), 61–72.Find this resource:

Huberman, M. (1989). The professional life cycle of teachers. Teachers College Record, 91, 31–57.Find this resource:

Huberman, M. (1989, 1993). The lives of teachers (J. Neufeld, Trans.). New York: Teachers College Press.Find this resource:

Jennings, L., & Mills, H. (2009). Constructing a discourse of inquiry: Findings from a five-year ethnography at one elementary school. Teachers College Record, 111, 1583–1618.Find this resource:

Kosnik, C., & Beck, C. (2009). Priorities in teacher education: The 7 key elements of preservice preparation. London: Routledge.Find this resource:

Kyriakides, L. (2012). Advances in school effectiveness theory. In C. Chapman, P. Armstrong, A. Harris, D. Muijs, D. Reynolds, & P. Sammons (Eds.), School effectiveness and improvement research, policy and practice: Challenging the orthodoxy? (pp. 44–57). London: Routledge.Find this resource:

Lortie, D. (1975). Schoolteacher: A sociological study. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Find this resource:

Menard, S. (2002). Longitudinal research (2d ed). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.Find this resource:

Muchmore, J. (2004). A teacher’s life: Stories of literacy, teacher thinking, and professional development. San Francisco: Caddo Gap.Find this resource:

Muijs, D. (2012). Methodological change in educational effectiveness research. In C. Chapman, P. Armstrong, A. Harris, D. Muijs, D. Reynolds, & P. Sammons (Eds.), School effectiveness and improvement research, policy and practice: Challenging the orthodoxy? (pp. 58–66). London: Routledge.Find this resource:

Pring, R. (2015). Philosophy of educational research (3d ed.). London: Bloomsbury.Find this resource:

Punch, K. (2009). Introduction to research methods in education. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.Find this resource:

Punch, K. (2014). Introduction to social research: quantitative and qualitative approaches (3d ed.). Los Angeles: SAGE.Find this resource:

Richmond, G., Bartell, T., & Dunn, A. (2016). Beyond “tinkering”: enacting the imperative for change in teacher education in a climate of standards and accountability. Journal of Teacher Education, 67(2), 102–104.Find this resource:

Rolls, S., & Plauborg, H. (2009). Teachers’ career trajectories: An examination of research. In M. Bayer, U. Brinkkjaer, H. Plauborg, & S. Rolls (Eds.), Teachers’ career trajectories and work lives (pp. 9–28). Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer.Find this resource:

Ruspini, E. (2002). Introduction to longitudinal research. New York: Routledge.Find this resource:

Saldaña, J. (2003). Longitudinal qualitative research: Analyzing change through time. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira.Find this resource:

Sammons, P. (2012). Methodological issues and new trends in educational effectiveness research. In C. Chapman, P. Armstrong, A. Harris, D. Muijs, D. Reynolds, & P. Sammons (Eds.). School effectiveness and improvement research, policy and practice: Challenging the orthodoxy? (pp. 9–26). London: Routledge.Find this resource:

Savin-Baden, M., & Major, C. H. (2013). Qualitative research: The essential guide to theory and practice. London: Routledge.Find this resource:

Schoonmaker, F. (2002). “Growing up” teaching: From personal knowledge to professional practice. New York: Teachers College.Find this resource:

Stake, R. (2006). Multiple case study analysis. New York: Guilford.Find this resource:

Strong, M. (2009). Effective teacher induction and mentoring: Assessing the evidence. New York: Teachers College.Find this resource:

Tatto, M. T. (2013, Summer). Changing trends in teacher education policy and practice: International perspectives and future challenges for educational research. Research Intelligence: News from the British Educational Research Association, 121, 2013, 16–17.Find this resource:

Wiseman, D. (2012). The intersection of policy, reform, and teacher education. Journal of Teacher Education, 63(2), 87–91.Find this resource: