Researcher Beware

First year teachers are like brand new pennies, they have been untouched by the issues in education, all shiny and new. They start out with their excited smiles and the “I’m going to change the world,” attitude. This is not to say that veteran teachers are not passionate about their role, but it is easy to see that veteran teachers have a weight on their shoulders. As teachers, we fight for what is right for our students and work without the resources we need, but we give our students the best education we can offer.

I remember the moment I realized that my students were not given the same opportunities. I was a first or second year teacher and I was at a music conference, still shiny and new. I was in awe, watching a middle school band; they were amazing! When the band finished playing, the director had the kids stand and take a bow. I was struck with the realization that, with the exception of four students, the entire ensemble was Caucasian. I instantly found this odd, as this was not the case at my school.

Then the director started talking about what he did to get the students to produce such incredible music. He was adamant that the teachers in the room needed to make sure the students were playing on matched instruments. Matched instruments! I was lucky if my students had instruments at all. Not only were these students all playing on school instruments, but they were all matched and brand new. It was at this point that I became a little tarnished. I was astonished that he had the budget for that. I had to fight for every piece of music I had and instruments were not an option. At that moment I realized that my students were disadvantaged and that the director and I were not playing on the same field.

While I read the article by Garcia and Ortiz (2013), I kept coming back to the same thoughts of my students. What could they have achieved had they been given the same access to resources? Garcia stated, educational equity remains an elusive goal for students from non-dominant racial, ethnic, linguistic and socio-cultural communities…” (Garcia & Ortiz, 2013) Our schools are not equitable. The students do not have the same classes, services, resources or diversity.

As I contemplate my research along with the articles, I was struck by the fact that my research could have a lasting effect on education. It is doubtful that teachers and researchers enter their field with thoughts of holding people back, yet the unconscious bias one has, can do just that. Gould discusses this very problem.

Morton made no attempt to cover his tracks and I must presume that he was unaware he had left them. He explained all his procedures and published all his raw data. All I can discern is an a priori conviction about racial ranking so powerful that it directed his tabulations along preestablished lines. Yet Morton was widely hailed as the objectivist of his age, the man who would rescue American science from the mire of unsupported speculation. (Gould, 1996)

The research presented by Morton was, in his eyes, objective. However, his research held bias towards minorities and had an impact on education and society. (Gould, 1996) If one looks at the demographics of our schools, specifically race, and the access they have to resources, it is easy to see that the bias Morton held, still affect us today. “Education equity remains an elusive goal for students from non-dominant racial, ethnic, linguistic, and socio-cultural communities; the research conducted to-date has not been successful in altering this trajectory.” (Garcia & Ortiz, 2013)

I find myself wary of my own possible bias as I approach the start of my research. As previously stated, it is doubtful that any researcher has the intent of causing harm to another person or culture; however, it is clearly possible. How does one avoid such a disaster? If I were required to list my bias at this very moment, I don’t know that I would be able to write anything down. In order to know what one’s bias is critical reflection must be utilized. As discussed by Howard, “Critical reflection is the type of processing that is crucial to the concept of culturally relevant pedagogy.”(Howard, 2003) He goes on to state that “Critical reflection should include an examination of how race, culture, and social class shape students’ thinking learning, and various understandings of the world.” (Howard, 2003) This could also be applied to researchers and educators. If educators have a clear understanding of how race, culture and social class shape their own thinking, we would have a better idea of our bias and how we are unconsciously communicating these ideas to our students. What becomes plainly obvious is that researchers in general need to spend time in critical reflection in order to keep the bias from affecting their work, as it did with Melton. By using Melton (Gould, 1996) as an example, one can find the following guidance:

  1. Look at the whole picture, be aware of the sub-samples and be consistent in the collection of the data.
  2. Set bias aside and confirm that the results can be reproduced
  3. Keep an open mind. If the data leads to alternate hypotheses, follow it.
  4. Check the math and leave nothing out.

As I set out to tackle my own research, critical reflection will play a role in my awareness of how I fit into the culture I will be studying. By being aware of my preconceived notions of culture, race and social class prior to my research I may be able to keep my ideas of such from hindering my research. The idea that I could impact others’ lives is both exciting and intimidating, as there is a fear there that research can hinder as much as help.

Garcia, S. B., & Ortiz, A. A. (2013). Intersectionality as a Framework for Transformative Research in Special Education. Multiple Voices for Ethnically Diverse Exceptional Lerners, 13(2), 32–47.

Gould, S. (1996). The Mismeasure of Man: American Polygeny and Craniometry Before Darwin. The “racial” economy of science (pp. 30–72). New York: WW Norton & Company. Retrieved from

Howard, T. C. (2003). Culturally Relevant Pedagogy: Ingredients for Critical Teacher Reflection. Theory into Practice, 42(3), 195–202. Retrieved from

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Tanya Suydam

I love that you connected what you read to you. I felt your passion through your writing! Awesome job!! :o)

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