Understanding the Experiences and Practices of Master Teachers Who Close the Achievement Gap of At-Risk Students
The purpose of this study was to explore the experiences and practices of master teachers who close the achievement gap for at-risk students. This paper presents an outcome-based model for evaluating teacher practice and improving academic success with at-risk adolescents. The outcomes considered most important for success were derived from the literature pertaining to at-risk youth and consultations with stakeholders who work with at-risk youth.
The research methodology for this phenomenological qualitative study consisted of in-depth interviews, document analyses and field notes. The participants in this study were identified by reviewing historical data from a Central Office database on the average score of the end-of-year exam of each teacher who have taught four years at the 4th and 5th grade level. A pilot study was conducted to assist in the refinement of the interview questions and process.
The results of this study indicate that master teachers have built a quality and trusting relationship and surround that student with warm and caring support structures so they will not fail. Based on qualitative data analysis, the themes generated in response to the question of what experiences and practices were used to close the achievement gap of at-risk students were as follows: Multiple intelligences, customization, demanding, extra work, warmth, cultural sensitivity, and engagement. Each of these themes can be divided into an experiential component as well as a practical component. In keeping with the theoretical framework of the study, the Theory of Planned Behavior, the themes were oriented towards an identification and examination of teacher practices. These master teachers exude an attitude towards the at-risk student that they will support them in times of need and use three elements to shape their responses: (a) demand, (b) supply, and (c) teacher activity. These seven practices along with the three elements used by these master teachers created an atmosphere of success for their at-risk children every day in their classroom.