Researching Teachers in Education

Teachers are the ‘front line’ of education, with the primary day to day responsibility students’ education and well-being.

If you want to understand the impacts that education policies are having on different types of student, then teachers are probably best placed to be able to tell you.

However, there are a number of potential problems when researching teachers:

Teachers have hectic working lives

Teachers work very long hours and often suffer with high stress levels, and they may not be willing or able to spend more time to engage with researchers.

For this reason questionnaires may be a better choice of method than interviews and observations may also be a good choice as these don’t really take up any time, but they could add to teacher stress, so it might be difficult to get teachers to agree to being observed.

Teacher professionalism

The validity of information you get from teachers may be compromised because of their professional status.

Teachers are bound by the GDPR and have a duty of care towards their students and so probably will not share data about their students with researchers from outside of the school.

Teachers could also be concerned about ‘impression management’ – they may want to present themselves in the best light possible and some may feel duty bound to present their school in a good light, because to do so is good for marketing and student recruitment, which could limit the critical views you get from teachers as a researcher.

On the other hand, there are also ‘jaded’ teachers that are fed up with their jobs, and are just time-serving their way to retirement – if you got a group of these together in a group interview, you might just get unrepresentative biased moaning about how bad life is as a teacher.

Line managers

If you want to gain access to teachers in a school you will have to approach the senior management team, and these may limit your access to the teachers you can research, possibly directing you towards the better and more compliant teachers to pain their school and the management in a positive light.

Even if you had unlimited access to teachers, they may not wish to be critical of the school for fear of this getting back to their superiors. In some schools there may well be very few critical teachers, and if research findings showed negative views of the school, in such cases it would probably be obvious which teachers were responsible for such negative comments, even if data was anonymous.

Home may be the best place to research teachers?

You don’t have to research teachers in their school setting don’t forget, you may get more valid information if you interview them in their homes, away from the school setting, away from the ‘front stage’ where they are performing their teacher role.

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