Clare, I (Clive) and our wonderful research team are gearing up for our annual visits and interviews with the 40 teachers in our SSHRC study. This is the 12th year of study and we have got to know the teachers well; we are really looking forward to seeing them again. (Actually, we recently received SSHRC funding to follow them for another 5 years, which is exciting.)
At the same time, Clare, Elizabeth Rosales (one of our team members) and I are working on an article on longitudinal study of teachers for the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education. This is a challenge, because people differ on what longitudinal research means. For example, some say it must involve studying the same “cohort” year after year (as in our project), while others include “cross-sectional” study of different teachers at different career stages.
In the article, we have decided to take a broad view of longitudinal study, including any research that has a time perspective. For one thing, studying the same teachers year after year is not always feasible: funding is often just for a restricted period, and teachers may move to other parts of the country (we have been lucky in that nearly all our participants have stayed put, either in the Greater Toronto Area or the New York/New Jersey area).
Where feasible a cohort study does have clear advantages. As we are finding, you can get to know the teachers and their context very well, and so understand the details of how they change and grow and why the changes occur. However, large-scale cross-sectional studies of teachers at different career stages – such as Huberman’s research in the 1980s and the 2001-2005 VITAE study in the UK – can also provide enormous insights.