Monday, May 19, 2008

All Research is "Mesearch"

So says my roommate, who heard it from a friend. As a relatively new member of the research community, I have two thoughts on this:

1. There's a lot of truth in that statement
2. "All" is too strong

I don't really have a rooting interest in any particular intervention, but I would be lying if I said that my personal experiences hadn't shaped my research interests. I'm a private person -- when I talk about myself, it's not usually about personal things. Education is, to me, however, very personal. Particularly my decision to quit teaching. I know not everybody quit for the same reason as me. I don't know exactly how the exit of people like myself affects schools. But I've been convinced by my experiences that it merits further investigation.

I'm in an unusually pensive mood b/c TMAO has started to expound a bit on his decision to quit, and it stirs up a lot of memories for me. He makes a list of all the reasons he didn't quit and, oddly enough, these are mostly reasons why I did quit. Here are all the reasons he lists that he didn't quit:
  1. I wasn't prepared - I certainly wasn't. It's not really the reason that I quit, but it certainly hindered the amount of success I had.
  2. I'm not successful - I certainly never felt successful. Maybe I just set the bar too high for myself, but I always felt like I was trying to preside over chaos.
  3. I'm not supported - TMAO says he doesn't know what this means. In my school, it meant that when I struggled I was told I was a bad teacher rather than helped. When a student flipped out, I was berated and the student remained in my room.
  4. I can no longer stand to work with the disastrously declined youth of today or their apathetic, uninvolved families - I'll agree with him on this one -- that had nothing to do with my decision
  5. I'm not paid enough - Of course I wasn't paid enough for what I went through, but that had very little to do with my decision to leave.
  6. I really want to teach at a KIPP school - That was probably the last thing on my mind as the kids ran out the door on my last day.
  7. I'm burnt out - TMAO wrestles with whether or not he was burnt out. I have no such quandary: I was burnt out -- badly.
Considering that these are the reasons he didn't quit, I'd very much like to hear more on why he did. Personally, I'd add discipline problems and the overall hostility level of the school at the top of a list of other reasons why I left.

But enough about me; back to my point. Just as everybody has experiences that define their lives, this one has defined mine. And these experiences define not just who people are but also what they research. Part of me feels that this is a bad thing -- in which case I plead guilty -- but part of me isn't so sure.

On the one hand, it means that people have more personally at stake in their research than we might like to believe (I'm guessing that most people who are interested in merit pay or teacher education believe that they are potentially powerful interventions). But, on the other, it also means that people have some context for the questions they ask and, for that matter, that they are motivated to spend time on the topic.

I know that my experiences have shaped my interests (and probably always will), and I think I can be ok with this as long as I start a project answering questions that I genuinely believe can be answered in either direction. It's the difference between starting off saying "I'm going to prove that discipline problems influence teacher retention" and saying "I wonder if discipline problems influence teacher retention and, if so, how much?" I'm not perfect, but that's the goal for which I'll aim.


Anonymous said...

I think you're right that it is ok to allow your personal experiences to shape your research questions.

The problem can arise when the researcher thinks they already know the answer to that question. Every researcher has to be wary of this, even at the subconscious level, affecting their work.

skoolboy said...

Have you encountered David Labaree's (2003) article "The Peculiar Problem of Preparing Educational Researchers"? It speaks to your concern about how personal experience as a teacher might intersect with becoming an educational researcher.

Corey Bunje Bower said...

No, I haven't -- I'll have to check it out