The Transition From Teacher to Researcher: What Makes It Easy
Sit at a table with a group of long-term expatriates (expats) and share a few glasses of wine. What you find if you listen, and ask the right questions, is an explicit view of self that is shared by third-culture adults. The subtext of our lost in translation stories, or one-upmanship of terror and misfortune on the road, is a narrative of community bonding. This time spent together seems like a session of humble-braggarts patting each other on the back to the outsider, but to us it is a reaffirmation of belonging that comes from, not a passport, citizenry, or shared pop-culture references but a unique set of skills and attitudes that our inundation into other cultures has afforded us. This self-view often comes at a cost of being ‘out of touch’ with ones passport nation, the friends left in other countries, the norms of society as we knew them, but is rich in malleability, curiosity and flexible thinking. We pride ourselves as being global nomads, researching the planet though a distinctly unique lens.
This self-view has another heightened layer when we enter the realm of expat international educators. As moral crusaders, looking to fix the wrongs in the world, most international teachers that I know are driven as quasi-social activists with a passion for discovery, intercultural understanding and change making. International teachers express that they are driving innovative pedagogical practice, as they are often free from, or have ways around, the red tape of bureaucracy and the labyrinth of educational politics in order to practice education as they see fit. The dedication to global change underpinned by innovative educative practice is at the core of my personal identity as a teacher, an expat, a global citizen and a human. It is that curiosity and intrinsic love of research that I wrote about previously on my blog in the short articles, Action Research & Research Identity and the Journey Line of Research/Researcher that defines the character qualities of expats and makes the desire to be a researcher easy. It’s just the ‘how’ that makes it hard.
The Transition From Teacher to Researcher: What Makes It Hard
That same dedication to educational change and viewing myself as an activist and moral craftsperson in the classroom extends beyond my teaching practice to the social entrepreneur company I co-founded. This company has the mission to provide quality resources for teachers and parents that focus on values, social & emotional skills, mindfulness and empathy, in order to helps prepare kids to successfully face the challenges of learning, growing and developing in our complex and fast-paced world. My company seeks to focus on developing critical thinking skills, problem-solving skills and global citizenship, helping create the next generation of youth change agents and social entrepreneurs, exponentially making an impact to environmental, humanitarian and societal issues for a better tomorrow. This mission is clearly driven from a personal identity of activist change maker, and the shift in my teacher to researcher thinking that I am struggling with right now is what Labaree (2003) states as, “…not to fix a problem of educational practice but to understand more fully the nature of this problem” (p 17). This seemingly huge step back from activism to non-action, observational, academic pontification is hard for me. Thus, what makes being a researcher inherently easy, an ingrained curiosity for how the world works and a desire to make it better, is exactly what makes it hard, in taking a step back to define and understand the problems more clearly. This dissonance challenges the expansive core concepts I have constructed as self.
The Transition From Teacher to Researcher: Where I am now
Reading back on the reflective entries I have done thus far, I am able to notice a shift in my understanding from what Murakami-Ramalho et al., (2011) describe as personal or intuitive knowledge to theoretical and intellectual knowledge (p 4). Note, understanding and doing can be at opposite ends of a scale. Although I love the game of playing with universal abstract ideas I still feel that is a frivolous hobby shared with my colleagues over dinner, rather than within the full-time teacher and part-time researcher framework. Not only that, but I wonder about how current administration and leadership would view providing opportunities for release, data collection and case studies for educational research that lacks immediate and scalable ramifications for practice within the school. Perhaps the answer is in what Labaree describes as scholarly research providing, “a theoretical mirror, which teachers can hold up to their own problems of practice in order to see the way that their problems are both similar to and different from those facing teachers in other settings” (p 20).
If I am honest, I am still floating between conformity knowledge or waiting to be imbued with understanding from extrinsic sources (just tell me what to do!) and capability knowledge or understanding that my research identity is an intrinsically constructed construct (E. Murakami-Ramalho et al., p 8). This is an interesting place to be because as a teacher, my pedagogical ethos is based in student ownership of learning- I am forced to ask myself, why would that be different my own higher education? To compound the difficulty in that self reflection is how to decipher which knowledge from a lifetime rich in experiences, skills and aptitudes is pertinent in order to develop a research identity and how to distill the vast, complex, intertwined and messy issues within schools to a clear and defined Focus of Practice.
References and Further Reading
Labaree, D. (2008). The winning ways of a losing strategy: Educationalizing social
problems in the United States, Educational Theory 58:4, 447-460.
Murakami-Ramalho, E., Militello, & M., Piert, J. (2011). A view from within: how
doctoral students in educational administration develop research knowledge and
identity, Studies in Higher Education 1-16