How School Teachers Could Become the Foot Soldiers of Education Research
Ask any classroom teacher, and they will tell you that nothing can prepare a person for their first day as a teacher. University classes and the professors who teach them, however well-meaning and intelligent, simply cannot replicate the challenges and day-to-day real-life situations that teachers experience.
There is a certain element of trial by fire that comes with beginning teaching. Those of us who have been to school and studied pedagogy can certainly attest to that. The research they studied in school is not particularly useful when faced with a classroom full of living, breathing kids.
But, why isn’t the research more useful to classroom educators?
Theories in education are directly related to the areas in which researchers interested.
Some great research is being ignored, and other work that is more questionable (or has even been debunked) research gets tons of publicity. Too many teachers feel like new strategies and ideas are being shoved down their throats by the administration without regard for its practicality in the classroom. They are looking for tangible impact in the classroom and coming up short.
Also, unfortunately, a great many teachers don’t feel that adequate attention is paid to the needs and skills of teachers and students in the real world and on a personalized level. Teachers are incredibly busy, and staff development that doesn’t feel relevant to them is a waste of time that they could be spending doing things that are important for their students.
The question becomes, “What in the world does this research have to do with me and my students? Does this warrant my time?” And, those are fair questions.
While creating an analogy between education and war may have a negative connotation, the truth is that the teachers are on the front lines each day. In contrast, too many researchers have never even been battle-tested. The disconnect between theoretical work and the actual needs of teachers and students just continues to widen.
Teachers, in general, tend to feel that their professional knowledge is ignored and neglected in education research. Research that should be helping and informing their work does not actually take them into account. This is frustrating, to say the least.
New research is changing the way we look at educational theories. Some researchers are making waves by actually sitting down with the infantry (classroom teachers) and getting their thoughts. Academics and researchers simply must get out into the broader community and engage in public debate and discussion. They are too often seen as up in an “ivory tower” looking down upon the actual schools with no real understanding of the challenges facing the instructors each day.
School-led trials have advantages, as well. Giving responsibility for collecting data to teachers ensures an unbiased conclusion. It seems that research could, and should, be a part of schools’ regular function.
The bottom line is that teachers should be respected and encouraged participants in educational research. Until that becomes the norm, academic research will never truly have the impact that we hope.