Research Anonymous: How I Became Addicted
At the heart of my call for free access to research for all teachers is my belief in teacher autonomy.
To me, access to research material is the corner stone of teacher professional autonomy. I believe that teacher professional autonomy finds its most powerful expression in professional knowledge construction either through independent study or collaboration.
Yet some eight years ago, the above idea was an alien concept to me. I was training to become a qualified teacher via a Graduate Teacher Programme (GTP).
Choosing GTP was a practical decision – I needed a salary. Acquiring knowledge in education philosophy, learning theory and pedagogy were not my priorities. I was to be trained to be a teacher. In other words, my main objective was acquiring practical skills. It was a bit like being an apprentice, learning the trade by doing it. “Training on the job”, or “straight in the deep end”, was commonly used to describe my GTP route.
Theoretical knowledge about education only came into my training process in the shape of three compulsory essays. In retrospect, I can only recall one of my topics: questioning. The only piece of theoretical work that I was exposed to was Black and William’s (1990) Inside the Black Box.
I qualified at the end of 2006 and started my NQT year in January 2007 at a different school. I have remained there since. I picked up various teaching methods, behaviour management techniques, intervention strategies and various other practical skills. I have also learned about educational jargon along the way. I survived.
“Survived” is an emotionally-charged word. Like many (or most), I learned to comply – sometimes willingly and sometimes begrudgingly – with expectations to implement strategies to support school policies to drive up standards (see, I did say that I had learned to speak Education). Then, I began to question my role as a teacher – was I really just a passive facilitator of learning, an executor of others’ ideas or a reinforcer of school rules? Was I, in essence, merely a tool? Was that what being a teacher really meant?
When I trained to become a teacher, I had never envisaged that it could result in my existential quandary. I became increasingly more aware of the tension between my given teacher identity (gaining Qualified Teacher Status and meeting standards to move up the pay scale and threshold) and one that is defined also by my personal values and beliefs. I also became more frustrated by the fact that there did not seem to be anywhere where I could turn to find answers.
Then I found the Cambridge Master of Education course.
Suddenly, I was a student again. I had a teacher. I could borrow books. More excitingly, I could access uncountable number of research papers. I had more and more questions that needed answering. My MEd course did not answer all my questions. Instead, it gave me the access to research material; it equipped me with essential research knowledge and skills.
I enthusiastically completed all my assignments and I never missed any online discussions over the two-year period. I was constructing my teacher professional knowledge through independent study and collaboration. This was what it meant to be a good teacher. This was what I wanted to be – a teacher researcher.
All this epistemological breakthrough and existential emancipation was only possible because I had a valid student card that doubled up as a library ticket.
But not every teacher had the opportunity or means to become a student again to gain access to research.
I am certain that my story is by no means unique. Many teachers embark on master’s or doctorate studies to extend their professional knowledge years after they enter the profession. Equally, I am also aware that research does not necessarily feature highly in many teachers’ list of qualities that define what a good teacher is (based on the data I collected from a pilot study).
Undeniably however, teachers are always conducting their own “research” and constructing their professional knowledge one way or another through observations of, and discussions about, their daily work, very often without realising they are doing it. What can be more empowering than giving teachers access to research to extend their professional knowledge? Through a free access to research publications, teachers can apply, test and formulate theory to inform their own practice to improve the quality of their work. Surely, it is a powerful way to demonstrate professional autonomy – taking control of one’s professional learning through researching one’s own practice.
Of course, accessing research is only the first step. The power of knowledge can only be realised when teachers are equipped with appropriate research knowledge and skills. That is the next step.
To support free access to research publications for all teachers, please sign my online petition:
Thank you for your support.