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Choosing to teach : lessons from the lives of effective urban teachers


Reform efforts intended to improve teaching and learning in urban schools often include teacher professional development as an important component. However, the results of such efforts are mixed, in part because little is known about what truly matters in supporting the long- term growth of effective urban teachers. This study seeks to better understand those experiences that best support the professional development of teachers in urban high schools. Using a community nomination approach, this study identified 12 effective urban teachers based on recommendations from students and administrators. These teachers were then interviewed extensively about everything from their own K-12 education to their decision to become a teacher to their experiences in the classroom. Although the identified teachers differed significantly based on surface level characteristics such as years of experience, academic subject, and personal background, they all shared important similarities in their professional growth experiences. In particular, all identified opportunities to develop meaningful relationships with students and opportunities to critically reflect on practice as having had significant impact on their professional growth. These teachers all chose to become teachers because they wanted to work with students. All sought opportunities to develop relationships with students beyond the traditional teacher -student classroom interaction. These interactions with students provided opportunities for teachers to gather knowledge and ideas, which prompted growth in pedagogy, classroom practice, and socio-political consciousness. In addition to student interactions, critical reflection on practice was essential in supporting the growth of participating teachers. Such reflection went beyond re- thinking a lesson; teachers in this study reflected on the nature of their content, their beliefs about teaching and learning, their classroom approach, and the achievement of their students. The common professional growth experiences of these teachers, all of whom were identified as effective in urban high schools, may indicate directions that could be helpful in supporting the professional growth of all urban high school teachers. Increasing opportunities for meaningful teacher-student interactions and opportunities for critical reflection on practice may lead to teacher growth which could result in improving the learning environment for students in urban high school classrooms

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