ETAP 512: Teachers in Context
Fall, 2009
Guidelines for the Profile of a Teacher in Context














Finding a Teacher

Practical Issues

Style, Length, and Related Matters

Submission Guidelines



Overview. For this assignment you will write a profile of a teacher who is currently teaching in a middle or high school. The primary purpose of this assignment is to place the teacher you are profiling in context. In other words, your profile will describe your teacher so that his or her teaching style and personality become evident to your readers, but it should also identify important features of the context within which your teacher is working and examine how those contextual factors influence the teacher and his or her teaching.

Accordingly, you will need to gather some information about the school and school district where your teacher works, such as demographic, socio-economic, and cultural information. In addition, you will want to interview your teacher in order to learn about his or her background, training, experience, and beliefs about teaching.

A central goal of your profile will be to address the question, How have different contextual factors helped to shape who this teacher is and how he or she teaches? In that sense, this assignment is as much an analysis as it is a profile. So your final paper should not simply describe your teacher and provide information about his or her school district and community, but it should present some analysis of how various factors associated with the school and community and your teacher's personal history might have influenced his or her teaching and career.

(Please visit Sample Teacher Profiles to see some examples of profiles that students have completed for this assignmentin the past.)

Content. Although the specific content of your profile will depend upon the teacher you select for this assignment, here are some general guidelines for gathering appropriate information:

Background About Your Teacher. Your profile should convey to your readers a good sense of who your teacher is as a professional. It should include relevant personal background information as well as information about your teacher's professional training and experience. It should also provide a sense of his or her teaching philosophy and teaching style. Here are some questions to consider as you explore your teacher's life and work:

  • What made your teacher decide to become a teacher? What motivates him or her as a teacher?

  • What noteworthy experiences helped shape the professional he or she has become? Is there a special moment or event in his or her past that stands out as especially important in influencing him or her?

  • Where was your teacher educated? What kind of professional training does he or she have?

  • What rewards does your teacher gain from teaching? What are the main challenges he or she faces as a teacher?

  • What factors does he or she believe most affect his or her teaching?

  • How would you characterize your teacher's teaching style? What does he or she believe are his or her strenghts and/or weaknesses as a teacher? How do students seem to respond to this teacher?

  • What are your teacher's primary goals as a professional? To what extent does he or she feel that he or she has achieved these goals?

This information can be gathered from interviews with your teacher; interviews with her or his peers, administrators, parents, or students; and classroom observations. Keep in mind that these questions are intended to guide your research for this assignment. You may or may not be able to address all of them in your profile.

Information About the School and Community. Your profile should also provide some sense of the school, school district, and community where your teacher works. Consider addressing the following questions to provide a sense of this context:

  • What kind of school district and community does your teacher work in? What are the socio-economic and demographic characteristics of the district and community (e.g. income levels of students' families, racial and ethnic make-up of the school and community, etc.)?

  • Is there anything special or unusual about the district or community that might have helped shape your teacher's career?

  • What is the relationship between teachers and school administrators in that district?

  • What role do parents play in the district? What do parents tend to do for a living?

  • Who are the students your teacher teaches? What stands out about them? Where do they go after graduation?

  • What are the special characteristics of the community? What industries (if any) are located there? What workplaces and/or recreational facilities are located there that might shape the nature of its schools?

  • Is there anything relevant about the history of the community or its schools?

This information might be gathered from interviews with your teacher; his or her colleagues, school administrators or district personnel, parents, and community residents; from the NY State Department of Education website; from the library; or from your own experiences in the district or community.

Again, keep in mind that these questions are guidelines for the kinds of information you will need to complete this assignment. You may not be able to gather all these information.

Analysis. As noted above, your profile will include a description of your teacher and his or her teaching as well as a description of the school and community where he or she works. But the focus of this assignment is on placing your teacher in context and providing your readers with a sense of the factors that shaped him or her as a professional; consequently, your profile should some examination of important features of the school and community context that seem to have influenced your teacher and his or her teaching. In this regard, your profile should also be an analysis of your teacher in context.

In doing this analysis, consider the following kinds of questions:

  • How might your teacher's specific professional background and experiences have influenced his or her teaching?

  • In what ways might important cutlural developments (e.g. the increasing use of various communications technologies such as email or cell phones) or historical events (e.g. September 11, 2001; the war in Iraq) have affected this teacher's work and/or his or her approach to teaching or helped shape his or her decision to become a teacher?

  • What characteristics of the school or community seem most important in shaping working conditions for teachers there? For example, does the income level of residents of the local community seem to influence the curriculum, the students, or other aspects of the working conditions in that district?

  • How might the nature of the school administration affect teachers?

  • Are there social or political or economic conflicts or controversies that might have affected teachers there?

  • Are there any special characteristics of the school or curriculum that might help shape your teacher's teaching style or philosophy? For example, does the district use block scheduling or similar alternative ways to structure the curriculum that affect teachers there? Does the size of the school shape the teachers' work there?

  • How does the school district's response to state and federal mandates about such matters as standardized testing influence working conditions for teachers there?

These are some of the questions you might think about as you examine how various factors or events might have influenced your teacher and his or her teaching. You will probably not address all of these questions, and you may identify other questions that are more important in your teacher's case. The point is to explore the ways in which important contextual factors shape the work your teacher does and his or her approaches to teaching in that district; moreover, your profile should tell us something about what it means to be a teacher.

It is important to keep in mind that your analysis is not intended to "prove" any correlation between your teacher's work and specific features of the context within which he or she teaches. Rather, you should try to draw reasonable conclusions, based on what you have learned about your teacher and his or her school, about how context shapes his or her teaching.

Please note that the purpose of this assignment is not to evaluate or judge your teacher in any way. It is to try to understand his or her teaching in context. Consequently, your descriptions of your teacher and his or her teaching should include no criticisms or judgmental commentary; your descriptions should be as objective and factual as possible.

Finding a Teacher. The teacher you choose to work with for this assignment can be any currently employed teacher in a district to which you have access. Try to select a middle or high school teacher in your content area, but any teacher will suffice. The only requirement is that the teacher is willing to participate, which means, at a minimum, that he or she will agree to be interviewed by you.

If you know a teacher, feel free to ask him or her to work with you for this assignment. If you know someone at a local school, you might ask that person to help you find a teacher to work with. You might also call a local high school or middle school and ask for help in finding a teacher to work with for this assignment. If you have no access to a teacher for this assignment, please see the course instructor, and arrangements will be made to find someone for you to work with.

Once you have identified a teacher to work with, contact him or her as soon as possible to arrange a meeting and/or classroom visit. Explain the purpose of the assignment, and direct your teacher to this website for further information. Tell your teacher that he or she may contact the instructor if there are any concerns or questions. (In the final version of your profile, be sure to use a pseudonym for your teacher.)

Practical Issues.

  • It is a good idea to use a tape recorder for the interviews you conduct with your teacher or anyone else you interview for this assignment (with their permission), but it is not essential. What is essential is taking good notes, whether interviewing or observing the teacher.

  • Be sure to allow yourself sufficient time to contact a teacher, arrange for the meeting (or meetings) and/or class visits, and gather information about the school district and community. Remember that teachers and other school personnel will be busy, and it may be difficult for you to find a convenient time to meet.

  • Also, of course, allow sufficient time for writing the report.

Style, Length, and Related Matters.

  • The finished report of your case study should be about 1000-1200 words in length. You should follow the conventions of academic writing in your report, but there is no need to be overly formal in your writing style.

  • In your profile, draw on any relevant course readings or other materials you found useful in writing your report, and include a list of works cited (in APA format) if you use any such sources.

  • Also feel free to include relevant anecdotes from your interviews, classroom observations, or visits to the school.

  • One last thing: keep your audience (your classmates) in mind as you write. Academic writing can be dull but it doesn't have to be. Try to make your profile as engaging as possible, within appropriate bounds for academic writing.

Submission Guidelines. You should submit your profile as a Microsoft Word file or, if you are using a different word processing program, as a rich text file. (Let your instructor know if you have questions about format.) Unless instructed otherwise, you should post your finished profile by the deadline to the course Blackboard site. Your instructors will download your profile from that site.

  • A complete draft of this assignment is due in class on Thursday, October 1st. (Please bring three legible copies of your draft to class.)

  • A final, revised version must be uploaded to the course Blackboard site by 4:00 p.m. on Thursday, October 8th.

Grading. This assignment is worth 20 points. Points will be awarded on the basis of the following criteria:

  • Thoroughness. Your profile should present a relatively complete picture of your teacher and the district and community where he or she works. It should convey to readers a good sense of who this teacher as a professional and the conditions under which he or she teaches and offer some insight into his or her background and the major influences in his or her life that helped determine the teacher he or she has become. It should also identify the features or characteristics of the school and community context that seem to shape his or her teaching.

  • Substance. Your profile should move beyond simple description to substantive analysis of the influence of context on your teacher's work. Your analysis should be thoughtful, reasonable, and well supported.

  • Clarity. Your profile should be well organized and your prose clear and readable. It should have few errors and conform to appropriate academic conventions (including conventions for citing sources).