ESL TEACHERS' UNWILLINGNESS TO ENGAGE IN CLASSROOM RESEARCH: A GLOOMY REALITY
Classroom research is a garland and key to success in our professional career as ESL teachers. Teachers who conduct classroom research will have opportunities to:
create or develop new teaching and learning strategies
gain new knowledge and ideas
promote professional development
engage in lifelong learning
be exposed to valuable insights
gain personal satisfaction (when the research helps learners to learn successfully)
support application for a better position / grade / remuneration
share the newly discovered strategy with others
Whichever school we go, it is evident that the number of ESL teachers who are actively engaged in classroom research is very limited. Some schools have none. This is a sad reality. Some may argue that conducting research is only for college or university lecturers. Some may feel there is no need for school teachers to conduct classroom research. Sorry, I beg to differ. THERE ARE ISSUES TO BE SOLVED SUCH AS SERIOUS GRAMMAR ERRORS AMONG LEARNERS, THEIR INABILITY TO DEVELOP IDEAS WELL AND POOR VOCABULARY STORAGE. WE CANNOT JUST CLAIM WE ARE AWARE OF ALL THOSE CRITICAL ISSUES AND DO NOTHING ABOUT IT.
As ESL teachers, we need to ask some thought-provoking questions such as:
Why it happened?
What should I do?
What strategy should I develop to reduce it?
How can I enrich their vocabulary / understanding of grammar rules?
How can I solve it?
How can I help my learners make improvements?
What is the best way to solve it?
THE POINT IS, WE CANNOT SIMPLY IGNORE THE LEARNING ISSUES FACED BY OUR LEARNERS.
One issue which bothers me is that there is always a limited number of ESL teachers in school who are committed to engage themselves in classroom research. Many reasons are cited but I do not intend to list them down. I know some of those reasons are valid but some are merely excuses. Whatever it is, I personally believe ESL teachers should not give anymore reasons or excuses for their failure or inconsistency to conduct classroom research in their own classroom. These are my concerns:
If ESL teachers cannot afford to do one research a year, fine. They should not give any excuses for not conducting just one research in two or five years.
If they claim they do not know how to conduct an action research, there are always numerous ways to learn how to do so.
If they insist that they have no time to conduct a simple action research, is this explanation valid? The answer can be yes or no. Perhaps, in one packed year, yes, some busy teachers do not have time for any research. However, what about in five years' time? Meaning to say, throughout the 60-month duration, the ESL teachers cannot allocate about 1-3 months to conduct a simple classroom research?
If the ESL teachers humbly admit they do not know what topic / area to focus on their classroom research, is it acceptable? They can always refer to the senior teachers or education officers if necessary.
If they are scared their research or strategy may not work, don't they know that failure or experience is the best teacher? Nobody expects them to be perfect or achieve great success the first time doing it!
If they claim it is too demanding to conduct a research alone, then, collaborate with colleagues or fellow ESL teachers in other schools. There are always ways and means.
If they complain they already have tonnes of things to do, I would still say, conducting classroom research is extremely significant because it is part of our core business. It is the responsibilities of ESL teachers to find ways or strategies on how certain learning and teaching issues can be addressed, reduced or solved. It is none other than through classroom research. Our responsibilities are not merely completing the chapters and exercises in modules!
Obviously, whatever reasons they give for not conducting classroom research could just be lame excuses. Let us face it, some teachers are merely "teachers" who go to classroom and teach. They are just "consumers" or "users", not "developers" or "designers". To me, there is nothing wrong with that but personally, I always believe teachers CAN AND SHOULD DO MORE! It worries me when the number of ESL teachers who develop and design teaching and learning strategies through classroom research is not increasing. The number of classroom teacher-researchers remains small, limited or in some schools, it is non-existent.
To me, it is so crucial for teachers to do research in their own ESL classrooms simply due to these reasons:
Teachers always have learners who need help and guidance. Among others, ESL teachers have learners who are potential A candidates but they still commit SVA errors. They may also have learners who are able to write but lack merits in their essays. Teachers need to design and develop strategies to address issues like the ones mentioned above. It is through classroom research that teachers can see the efficacy of the strategies. Basically, they need to conduct a pre-test, implement the strategies and conclude it with a post-test.
Some teachers have taught for 10 or 20 years but have never conducted any classroom research. This clearly shows, in a way, the teachers have been ignoring the learning issues faced by their learners. This is a gloomy reality. There are teachers who merely teach; complete all the chapters, cover the syllabus and give all the exercises in the module. However, the learners who do not have sufficient vocabulary remain the same and those who fail to use tenses accurately keep on having the same grammatical errors. Their issues are not solved. There is no attempt by the teachers to at least address the issues.
When most of the ESL teachers are active researchers, their strategies and findings can be shared with other teachers. Their strategies could also work in other contexts, hence, certain teaching and learning issues can be addressed accordingly. Imagine if there are 30 active classroom researchers (out of hundreds of ESL teachers in the district) in the whole DISTRICT, there will be 30 strategies to be shared and perhaps applied by others. Similar sharing session can be enhanced by having a STATE level seminar or colloquium whereby ESL teachers share their best practices which originate from the classroom research they have conducted. There will be more presenters, more sharing sessions, more learning and relearning and more professional growth among ESL teachers! Isn’t that awe-inspiring?
Therefore, more ESL teachers need to be actively involved in classroom research as there is a host of critical issues to be addressed. Undoubtedly, as mentioned before, classroom research can act as a torchlight guiding ESL teachers through different aspects of the classroom atmosphere. More significantly, engagement in classroom research is essentially important in preparing teachers for a global society. On this basis, I strongly believe that teaching in the 21st century requires teachers' action research for the purpose of satisfying the educational demands of the learning and teaching contexts. Academic research is key to success in any professional career. ESL teachers should take serious interest in conducting classroom research. It is not to be delayed anymore. It must happen either today or tomorrow.