A Teacher’s journey from classroom teacher to the researcher

Abstract

Many teachers do not easily believe that a classroom teacher can become a researcher, a writer, and a research mentor. However, they can contribute to the knowledge industry by exploring their own classroom contexts, analyzing local narratives, and sharing them throughout the world by writing papers, presenting the findings at the conference, and creating a community of practitioners. In this write-up, I have reflected on my experience of how I learned action research and became a research mentor. Furthermore, I have discussed how action research can be the best tool for the teachers’ professional development, students’ empowerment, and the change in the existing classroom situations.

Keywords: action research, empowerment, professional development, transformation

Introduction

The heated discourse in academia nowadays is about research and innovation. People talk about research-based education in schools and universities. In Nepal’s context too, scholars often complain that education is not scientific, innovative, and practical.  As a result, universities have also established research centers to encourage their teachers towards the research besides teaching in the classroom. In high school education as well, teachers are encouraged to do classroom-based researches or action researches by making the provision of awarding marks on action research for their promotion. However, the research culture is yet to develop in Nepal’s education. Therefore, the research needs to be redefined from the teachers’ perspective. In this reflective writing, I have argued for carrying out action research as the best tool to improve the existing classroom situation and groom oneself as a professional teacher and researcher.

My reflection as an action researcher

To begin with my practice of action research, I remember my first intervention to improve grade nine students’ speaking skills as an English language teacher in 2015. When I went to the class that contained 55 students (34 girls and 21 boys) and started teaching, I found pin-drop silence there. I thought I became successful in teaching the students and controlling them. I continued teaching for around fifteen days and asked them to reflect on what they learned during my teaching. Nobody answered me. I asked again if anything was wrong. One of the students hesitantly asked me for permission if she could speak in Nepali. After my permission, she shared, “Sir, you taught us very well because you spoke in English but we didn’t understand all”. Then, I further asked, “Why didn’t you ask me at the beginning?  Another boy stood up and spoke in Nepali “Sir, hamilai ta Englishma kasari prasna sodhne nai aaudaina” (Sir, we don’t know how to ask the question in English.)  These responses of the students made me upset for a while and I began to think seriously later. That evening, I posed some questions to myself such as: Was there any problem in my teaching? Why were the students not able to understand my English?  How do my students want me to teach them? Should I tell them everything in Nepali? Soon, I decided to collect students’ views and plan accordingly for further teaching.

The next day, I asked some questions to the students (interviewed them) and found that only five out of fifty-five students understood my teaching in English but they could not ask questions easily. Many of them were reluctant to speak with me even in Nepali. They reported that they lacked basic language functions and speaking practice. Then, I planned to teach them speaking skills for about a month through role-plays. Providing sample dialogues (roles) based on various situations, I asked them to practice role-playing. Slowly, they developed their confidence and performed better. Later, they started writing skits for role-plays themselves. As a facilitator, I divided them into 10 different groups and let them discuss the social issues/problems they had observed or experienced in their homes or communities and prepare the skits to be performed in the class. They soon discussed in the group, selected the issue, developed the skits, and assigned the roles for each other. Their issues were also diverse such as child abuse, alcoholism, drug addiction, family conflict, girls trafficking, early marriage, domestic violence, and so on. I encouraged them to prepare the best drama afterwards and perform in the school hall in front of all the students, teachers, and guardians. Probably, my statement might have created more pressure on them and thus, they took extra time for rehearsal. Most of them worked hard and finally performed well. They received compliments from the audience too. They expressed that they were more confident after a month-long practice although they were pressurized to do the best performance initially. Moreover, I realized that their participation in speaking and other classroom tasks also increased. Later, they started asking questions confidently when they were confused during the instruction.

After completion of that project, I prepared a presentation focusing on my classroom context, the problem I faced, intervention that I adopted for change, and the success I achieved. Firstly, I presented the findings among my colleagues in school. I found my colleagues excited to see the changes in my students caused by the project. That presentation also inspired other colleagues in the school because they adopted such interventions for solving their classroom problems. Secondly, I presented the findings at the international conference as well.  I got inspiration, from my friends who had already attended international conferences, to apply for the presentation. So, I developed a presentation abstract with the findings of the same project and applied it to IATEFL international conference 2016. They happily accepted my presentation proposal and awarded me a scholarship to travel and present my paper at the conference in the UK. It was a great opportunity for a classroom teacher like myself to attend and share my experience with the international community. It was only possible through my new intervention in the classroom. Finally, I wrote the reflection and sent it to the IATEFL voice newsletter and got it published in 2016.

I was excited to do such classroom interventions in the following years as well. In 2017, I developed another project to enhance the writing skills of grade eight students and succeeded to some extent. I again prepared the presentation proposal and submitted it to JALT international conference, Japan. It was accepted and supported by the organizer to travel to Japan and present my paper there. Being inspired by such a small but notable success in my career, I designed another project to address the classroom diversity of my students. I then developed the conference presentation proposal on how I addressed the classroom diversity and sent it to TESOL International Convention in the USA in 2017. They also accepted my presentation abstract with the scholarship to attend the TESOL Convention in Seattle, the USA, and present my paper. It was yet another opportunity of international exposure for me created through my tiny classroom intervention.

Later, I realized what I did in my classroom was none other than action research. My perception of action research completely changed after the realization that all the attempts of improving existing classroom situations through various teachers’ interventions were action researches. I used to think that research was beyond the access of teachers which would require specialized knowledge, skills, and practices. I was wrong because my experience mentioned above revealed that every teacher who approaches the real classroom problem with a new intervention strategy becomes a researcher. When I understood that action research means understanding a problem and solving it by oneself, I began to see every classroom problem from a researcher’s perspective, intervene and report to others for implication.

Understanding action research

Action research is understood and applied diversely according to the context since it is a research paradigm as well as a methodology (Goodnough, 2011).  For example, Smith and Rebolledo (2018), termed it as teacher research since it is the ‘research initiated and carried out by teachers into issues of importance to them in their own work’  / ’research done by teachers into issues which concern them’ (p.18). It means the research carried out by the teachers for addressing the problems that arise in the practice systematically collecting data, analyzing it, and sharing what is found. Action research can be understood by various terminologies based on practices as well, such as teacher research, classroom-based research, exploratory action research/ practice, participatory action research, and critical action research. However, its basic essence seems to be the same. For example, in action research what intervention is taken to improve the situation is highlighted whereas, in the exploratory action research, the focus is given to the exploration of the causes of the problem before taking action.

Action research can have various dimensions and purposes. For example, Rearick and Feldman’s (1999) framework of three dimensions such as theoretical orientation, purposes of action research, and the types of reflection helped me to understand action research as an emerging research trend. Its nature, again based on theoretical dimensions, is technical, practical, and emancipatory. As indicated by Noffke (1997), action research broadly serves three purposes: personal growth, professional growth, and political empowerment. In my career, firstly, it served as a tool to understand my students, the nature of the problem, and classroom context as well. Secondly, it worked as a tool for my professional development. For example, due to my practice of action research in the classroom, I traveled to foreign countries, attended conferences, learned, shared, and developed professional networking. Thirdly, action research informed me about the economic, social, gender, lingual, racial, and ethnic inequalities inside and outside of the classroom. I realize that action research empowers not only the researchers but also the students involved in the project.

Teacher research which is carried out by the teachers for teachers is practiced elsewhere in the forms of action research or exploratory practice (Hanks, 2019). As stated by Smith (2020b) practice of teacher research has provided me the platform to empower other teachers and enhance personal and professorial growth. Although the concept and the purpose of action research vary, the action research involves practitioners in the self-contained cycle like plan, action, observe and reflect. In any action research, this cycle repeats until the improvement occurs in the situation. That is the main reason why action research is regarded as participatory, cyclical, or recursive research. Keeping these four stages in a spiral at the center, we can find the solution for any problem in the classroom.

Teachers as the researcher in the classroom (Mertler, 2009) can learn the value of action research as empowerment of the participants, collaboration, knowledge acquisition, and change. First of all, as I have narrated above, the student participants are empowered through action research. For example, in my case mentioned above, the students were not able to speak with the teachers at the beginning but after the intervention, they expressed that they had a high level of confidence. It reveals that action research can empower the students. The researchers themselves get empowered after gaining insights from the course of action research. Secondly, it fostered a collaborative culture among the students and stakeholders. Collaboration, as one of the fundamental 21st-century skills every student requires to develop, can be developed through action research. Thirdly, action research served me as a reliable means to acquire knowledge about the learners, context and contents in the classroom. It proves that the researcher can acquire knowledge by being involved in the action research. Finally, action research brought about changes in my students. Students became successful to interact with their friends and teachers in the classroom after the completion of the action. It reveals that action research is change-oriented research.

Carrying out action research in Nepalese classroom contexts is not free from challenges. I have also observed and experienced various challenges as a teacher and researcher. The first challenge for a teacher is the motivation towards research. I found some younger teachers who were in their early careers comparatively more motivated. However, the teachers who were in their late careers less motivated in the process of action research. Another challenge is the understanding of action research and systematizing it. Many teachers might perceive action research as s tough job although they have been doing it unnoticeably in their practice. For example, I used to tackle my classroom problems with new interventions and improve my teaching. However, I had not understood it as research and documented it systematically for a long time. Later, I realized the essence of it. Similarly, managing time for doing action research can be the next challenge because teachers can be overloaded with teaching duties. As a result, they may not have enough time for preparation and exploration. Besides, collaboration with colleagues and administration, creating a research-oriented environment in the workplace, and updating oneself according to the changed academic scenario can also be a challenge for carrying out action research.

Conclusion 

Action research for teachers can be the best tool to groom personally and professionally. By exploring own classroom context, improving the existing situations, and empowering self and others through actions, a classroom teacher can contribute to the academia besides delivering course contents prescribed by the curricula. Moreover, action research provides the basis for a teacher to become a researcher, conference presenter, writer, and research mentor too. Although conducting action research requires teachers’ understanding, motivation, time, preparation, and dedication, it eventually supports them to transform themselves from a teacher to the researcher.

References

Goodnough, K. (2011). Examining the long‐term impact of collaborative action research on teacher identity and practice: the perceptions of K–12 teachers. Educational Action Research, 19(1), 73-86.

Hanks, J. (2019). From research-as-practice to exploratory practice-as-research in language teaching and beyond. Language Teaching, 52(2), 143-187.

Mertler, C. A. (2009). Action research: Teachers as researchers in the classroom. Sage.

Noffke, S. E. (1997). Professional, personal, and political dimensions of action research. Review of research in education, 22(1), 305-343. Retrieved from  https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.3102/0091732X022001305

Rearick, M. L., & Feldman, A. (1999). Orientations, purposes and reflection: A framework for understanding action research. Teaching and Teacher Education, 15(4), 333-349.

Smith, R., & Rebolledo, P. (2018). A handbook for exploratory action research. London: British Council.

Author’s Bio:

Gobinda Puri is a lecturer of English at Janta Multiple Campus, Itahari. He is also the vice-chair in the NELTA Sunsari branch and the executive member in the Provincial committee, Province No. 1. Currently, he is pursuing his M.Phil. in English Education, at Nepal Open University. Besides teaching, he has interested in teacher research.

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