MISSING VOICES ON TEACHER QUALITY:
STUDENTS DESCRIBE OUTSTANDING TEACHING
by Peter Horn
Ed.D. DISSERTATION OVERVIEW
Given the ongoing debates about evaluations for teacher effectiveness, publication of teacher ratings, and competing plans about how best to improve U.S. education, it is strange that the voices of key stakeholders are often muted in—if not absent from—the national conversation (Lincoln, 1995; Cook-Sather, 2002). In my study, student letters in support of candidates who would be selected as winners of Princeton University’s Distinguished Teaching Award (DTA) illuminate those qualities of teaching that, over a twenty-five year period and in a diverse range of secondary school settings, have impressed students as outstanding.
If an important function of assessing instructors is to improve teaching and learning, student perspectives may usefully be included at all school levels to grow relational trust (Bryk & Schneider, 2003), to more fully realize the school’s potential as a learning organization (Senge, 1990), and to enhance civic participation for all stakeholders. Engaged citizenship is a major philosophical interest of mine, specifically how we make schools for students who will consider themselves citizens interested in matters of shared concern, as opposed to accepting the familiar mantle of consumer. If students can see that their ideas have value in their local environment, they may come to understand differently the potential of voting and other modes of civic participation.
Given that Könings (2010) has found that teachers still tend not to be sufficiently aware of student perceptions, one place to begin authorizing the student voice is a topic that educators find worthwhile: what are the elements of outstanding teaching? Analyzing 202 letters written by students to recommend secondary school instructors who would be selected as winners of the Princeton University Distinguished Teaching Award (DTA) from 1989 to 2013, this study asks how these students describe outstanding teaching; and, what are the implications, if any, of such student descriptions for the practice of teaching?