Teaching as a Research-based Profession?

In a speech in 1996 by Hargreaves, he claimed (more or less) that for whatever reason teachers were a passive, unambitious group, and made a comparison between teaching and medical professionals, in particular doctors. He stated that doctors are constantly informed about developments in medicine, aware of recent research findings, and intrigued by possible future directions. He contrasted this with teaching, which he said is 'not a research-based profession'. Does he have a point, and of so, does it matter?

There were many fierce opponents to Hargreaves' claim that teaching would be 'more effective and more satisfying' if it looked more to research in its field. Many claimed that it was ridiculous to compare being a doctor to being a teacher. And there were many other credible reasons why what is right for a medical doctor is not necessarily right for a teacher. However, let's indulge the idea for a while.

It is difficult to talk about teaching as if it were one single job. It varies so widely from country to country, institution to institution, and so does methodology. I think we can state, though, that more or less the way we teach is dictated by the institution we work for or by our initial teacher training. It is top-down, decided by others, and we are asked to carry out what our employers are paying us to do. Often these people are experienced and educated enough to make that decision. The problem, if you like, is that we don't then think for ourselves about other ways to teach and once we are trained and paid, we give up actively developing.

Do you know many teachers who read journals and academic literature about educational research? Do you know any teachers who independently decide to carry out research? I don't. But why not? Are teachers not interested in what we can do better? Are teachers not an inquisitive bunch? Are they happy with the status quo? I imagine in some cases yes, but more often not.

I am not calling for a call to arms against those who decide on the teaching method but I would like to see more teachers reading about and exchanging ideas about teaching methods. How can we do this? At the moment there seems to be a mix of what we are told to do and what we've picked up along the way that works for us. Should this not be a bit more rigorous? Could we not also start discussions and carry out research? Do we not owe it to ourselves and our students to continually improve?


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