I’m going to try something that I know is impossible – talking about a profession as one entity. In Norway, there are 77,000 teachers, and of course, all of us are individuals. Still, there are some things I’m pretty sure many teachers agree on: We are tired of people with little expertise telling us how to do our jobs. The pendulum swings from one side to another, so what was in vogue 30 years ago is now considered the newest hotness. Be it politicians, parents, or others – many teachers want to be left alone, and be free to do a job they’ve many years of education and experience in.
But many have written about this before.
I would like to point at a problem this has led to. It has, in my view, created a sort of hardness in the profession that’s made us impervious to change. I understand why, but we mustn’t fire our clay. By this, I mean that we have to stay like lumps of clay: have some structural integrity while still being shapeable.
Pedagogical science and research is hard.
For instance, when looking at research done in other countries of times than your own, it’s hard to know what’s relevant for your situation. Furthermore, many findings are hard to scale. Science can also be misused and/or misinterpreted. Let me provide an example:
Different research has shown that reducing class sizes doesn’t affect learning outcomes. So, when someone suggests that reducing class sizes would benefit students, it’s easy to refer to this research, and shoot down the suggestion. However, we have to look at some details: Firstly, the research I’ve found only looked at learning outcomes, and not well-being (for students as well as teachers). Secondly, it only says it doesn’t increase learning outcomes if the practise stays the same. A critical point about reducing the number of students per teacher, is that it enables practice we do have research showing increases outcomes. Take a look at Hattie’s effect size list, and see how many of the items becomes more obtainable with more a more manageable number of students.
Even though some research can be taken out of context and/or not be as solid as we’d like, that doesn’t mean we should just stop the research. There’s a lot of good research, and it should have consequences for the way we teach. However, pedagogical science isn’t like some natural sciences, where «A always leads to B». It’s more like «A increases the likelihood of B» – and also C and D might have some effect, but perhaps to as much as B.
So, what’s the solution?
To be honest, I don’t know. Maybe teachers would be more willing to change if we didn’t feel as badly treated, both in terms of salary and the way the profession gets talked about by others. No matter the reasons, we are in a non-desirable situation where the profession doesn’t separate the voices suggesting we change: It doesn’t matter if it’s a politician with no expertise in the field or a solid piece of research. «The problem facing the school system, isn’t that we lack knowledge about how our schools could be better. The issue is that we don’t apply this knowledge», is a passage from the foreword of a book by the Norwegian educational researcher Peder Haug. We must refrain from firing the clay! I know it’s sort of a paradox, but while I agree that it’s unfair how much teachers get asked to «be better», we can’t stop trying to be better either!