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Study Sites
For our study, we distributed forty surveys to teachers from two mid-sized, public elementary schools in Central Illinois. Both elementary schools, Hawk Trail Elementary and Parkview Elementary, serve a population of around six hundred students that are primarily Caucasian and from middle class backgrounds. The most notable difference between the two schools is the year they were established. Hawk Trail Elementary was founded in the mid-sixties, while Parkview Elementary was opened in the fall of 1999.

The participants were full-time elementary teachers teaching kindergarten to fifth grade and special education. Their experience levels ranged from first year teachers to veteran teachers with over thirty years of experience. Twenty two teachers completed the survey. Of these teachers, six were male and sixteen were female. Ten of the teachers were from Parkview School and twelve were from Hawk Trail. The teachers in our study were chosen based on convenience sampling, due to their employment at the two elementary schools, their willingness to participate, and our personal connections with the two schools.

Our research began by disseminating surveys to every teacher in kindergarten to fifth grade and special education at both Hawk Trail Elementary and Parkview Elementary. The surveys were distributed to teacher mailboxes and included a brief note explaining who we were and the purpose of our study. We also revisited both schools a week after the initial distribution of surveys to make personal contact with the teachers who were available, and offer them an additional copy of the survey if they had not yet returned the surveys from our first attempt. The surveys sought out basic teacher information such as: name, current grade level, school at which they teach, number of years teaching, grade levels/subject taught throughout career as a teacher, degrees obtained, and previous career experiences. Additionally, teachers were asked to complete ten short-answer questions on their perceptions of characteristics of effective teachers and how their own teaching practices integrate those characteristics.

The ten short-answer questions first asked teachers to list the three characteristics they believed were most important in an effective teacher. Then they were to rank in order of importance a list of six characteristics of effective teachers taken from prominent literature in that field and describe which of these characteristics they felt was their greatest strength and their greatest weakness. Additionally, teachers were asked to name one teacher in their school building who they believed best embodied one of the three characteristics they listed as being the most important in an effective teacher and describe how that teacher demonstrated that characteristic in their everyday teaching practice. Using the participants’ answers to the above questions, we were able to narrow our population of teachers down to a small sample (n=6) of effective teachers as defined by practicing teachers’ perceptions of themselves and the criteria for employment in the district where we conducted our research. The criteria includes holding a valid Illinois teaching certificate which legally qualifies the teacher for the duties for which he or she is employed and meeting the requirements for being Highly Qualified as defined by the federal No Child Left Behind Act. To be “highly qualified,” a teacher must hold a bachelor’s degree, be certified or licensed to teach in the state of his or her employment, and have proven knowledge of the subjects he or she teaches (ISBE, 2002).

The last questions on our survey led teachers to start conceptualizing their ideas on what drives and inspires the most effective teachers to stay motivated in the field. The responses to these questions were significant because they helped us formulate the specific areas we would further investigate in the next step in our research. A complete set of survey questions can be found in Appendix A.

The next step in our research process involved conducting one-hour long interviews with the six teachers we had identified as effective teachers based on the analysis of the results of our survey and the literature review. These teachers were chosen utilizing purposeful sampling, which is a type of non-probability sampling, on specific criteria of effective teachers from the survey results, the literature review, and the criteria for employment in the district as noted above. The interview questions delved deeper into what inspires and motivates these particular effective teachers. Our interviews focused on questions such as: personal philosophy of education, biggest hurdles or challenges in the profession, and greatest influences on motivation to be a teacher. Additionally, the interviews sought qualitative feedback on teachers’ individual perceptions and implementation of the six characteristics of effective teachers from our literature review. As noted in the literature review, we define effective teachers as teachers who: (a) engage in reflection, (b) participate in professional development (lifelong learning), (c) creates an engaging learning environments, (d) use innovative instructional delivery methods, (e) have strong communication skills, and (f) participate in leadership activities. A general set of interview questions, which served as the starting point for each interview, can be found in Appendix B. Based on each teacher’s survey results, different interview questions were asked to expound on those answers and develop a better understanding of that particular teacher’s perspective.