Teacher Fellowships: an idea

Anupama Jha and Namita Jainer

Since its inception in 2006, the Regional Resource Centre for Elementary Education1 (RRCEE) at the University of Delhi has provided a platform for school teachers to undertake classroom-based research through fellowships instituted for the purpose. The aim of this fellowship is to provide teachers opportunities to broaden their understanding of education, children, teaching and learning, and prompt them to enhance their knowledge of pedagogy and subject-content. The premise is that learning to teach is inseparable from learning to inquire (Dewey, 1904 cited in Hatch et al., 2005) and thus, a research based learning framework has the potential to enhance professional capacities of practicing teachers; and to address classroom concerns in such a manner leads to a nuanced understanding of teaching-learning. Scholars have argued how a systematic reflection on issues and concerns that teachers face in the classroom can lead them to ask serious intellectual questions about their practice which they themselves can address (Bass, 1999; Lampert, 2001 cited in Hatch et al., 2005). The fellowship also helps to forge organic linkages between teacher practitioners and institutes of higher education such as the university.

The RRCEE teacher fellowship programme offers two types of fellowships: Long Term Fellowships: available for teachers who wish to take leave for a period of one year to undertake research and Short Term Fellowships: available for teachers who wish to undertake short classroom-based researches while in-service for a period of one year.

interventions1

One of the distinctive aspects of the fellowship programme is the individual mentoring support provided to each teacher fellow. A variety of scholars and educational practitioners from the University of Delhi and other organizations have participated as mentors. Monthly study sessions organized around a set of select readings is another vital feature of this programme. These study sessions are designed to facilitate discussions amongst the fellows on issues relating to the wider educational, socio-cultural, economic and political context. Select readings are categorized in broad themes such as: school curriculum; contemporary schooling; educational policy and gender and schooling. In addition, themes may also cover select writings of scholars such as John Dewey and Paulo Freire. Teacher fellows are also asked to contribute one key reading related to their field of study. These readings are compiled in different volumes each year and a copy provided to each fellow and mentors. Every study session is led by a presentation of the chosen reading(s) by a teacher fellow. The study sessions provide the opportunity for interaction amongst teacher practitioners from different contexts and with divergent views thus leading to a culture of supportive communities for teacher research.

Ordinarily, school teachers hardly ever get an opportunity to undertake discussions related to curricular issues and as Krishna Kumar (2004: 2) says, their “voice is structurally absent from the discourse of educational theory and research.” It is also argued that the schoolteacher “is reduced to a mere object of educational reform or worse a passive agent of the prevailing ideology of the modern state” (Batra, 2005: 4347). The fellowship programme addresses these concerns by providing a platform for teachers to articulate their views and develop constructive arguments with regard to several classroom related issues including curriculum design and pedagogic approach. The aim is to generate a body of knowledge rooted in the field of practice and which can inform the prevalent discourse on education.

While individual mentoring takes care of the many challenges of conducting research, the major challenge lies in facilitating teachers in writing about the insights gained from the research. Writing a piece of research is an arduous task. It entails the organization of thoughts, appropriate expression, stating ideas with clarity and in a precise manner. In order to write a coherent piece one needs to ensure logical presentation and progression of ideas. Keeping this in view, we organize writing workshops that are spread over the fellowship period. The aim is to enable teachers to understand the process of communication through the written word.

The attempt of the facilitator is to engage teachers with different types of writings: poetry, stories, newspaper articles and reports published in newspapers. Fellows are encouraged to share their concerns and queries regarding the academic research undertaken by them in depth.

interventions2

Teacher fellows, their mentors and team members of RRCEE converge their efforts to organize various activities and ensure the participation of the fellows in study sessions and sharing meetings organized at regular intervals. Feedback and suggestions provided in such meetings help us to plan future activities. In one such meeting, a strong need was expressed for a workshop on research methodology and what research means for a teacher practitioner. This will now become a feature of the fellowship programme from the current year.

After the completion of their research, fellows document their work in the form of a research report in consultation with their mentors. To share the same with the larger practitioner community a symposium is organized for school teachers and student-teachers across a variety of institutions. The symposium provides a forum where teachers’ voices are not only heard but gain legitimacy in the developing discourse on praxis. Some of these reports are available on our web-portal; some have been shared through seminars and have been included as readings for student-teachers.

So far, twenty-six fellowships have been instituted over a period of three years. Fellows have worked on a diverse set of issues related to curriculum transaction, children’s perceptions, reading, mathematical thinking, learner assessment; gender, project-based learning, pedagogic concerns and strategies and other issues which teachers encounter in their day-to-day work.

References

  1. The RRCEE is part of a larger network of institutions: University-School Resource Network that addresses issues of equity and quality in elementary education. For more information visit: www.eledu.net.
  2. Bass, R. (1999, February). The scholarship of teaching: What’s the problem? Inventio, 1(1). http://www.doiiit.gmu.edu/Archives/ feb98/randybass.htm accessed on 18 August 2010.
  3. Batra, Poonam (2005) Voice and Agency of Teachers: A missing link in the National Curriculum Framework, EPW, October 1-7.
  4. Hatch, T. (ed.) (2005). Going Public with our Teaching: An Anthology of Practice. Teachers College Press. http://www.goingpublicwithteaching.org accessed on 18 August 2010.
  5. Kumar, Krishna (2004). Politics of Change, Presented at a Seminar on ‘Strategies and Dynamics of Change in Indian Education’, New Delhi, 25th November 2004.

Dr. Anupama Jha is Project Associate at RRCEE.
Namita Jainer has completed her Master’s degree in Social Work and is an intern with RRCEE. They can be reached at [email protected].

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