Blog Post

Teachers' Experiences with Service-Learning

Teachers' Experiences with Service-Learning

The October 9th Philadelphia Inquirer article “Fed-up Philly teachers jumping ship” by Kristen A. Graham details the experiences of School District of Philadelphia educators – growing increasingly “demoralized” by stalled contract negotiations and a four-year wage freeze - as they struggle to do “good work” in our broken education system. The feelings and concerns shared in this article are real, reasonable, and supported by educational research.

            Across the nation, educational research and media reports describe teachers as disengaged, dissatisfied, deprofessionalized, and even degraded. In a 2011 article educational researcher Doris Santoro explains that demoralization occurs for teachers prevented from accessing the moral rewards embedded in their craft because they can no longer do right by their students, profession, and themselves.  Conversely, the burnout discourse is part of a larger discourse placing the onus for various educational “failures” on our teachers.

            There is a growing body of research on teachers’ varying reactions to challenges to their professionalism, including resistance and attrition, which explore the personal, social, and moral concerns of teachers affected in the context of reforms that challenge the profession. Further, they view teachers’ responses as rational, as opposed to stemming from teacher deficiencies.  They frame resistance and attrition as “good sense” and “conscientious objection.”

             Woven throughout the conversation of teacher attrition is a less examined and equally important point. Returning to my discussion of Philadelphia- where schools have been crumbling (literally and physically) for years and teachers still walk through their doors (without a contract, raise, or adequate resources)- something has motivated and sustained these teachers up to this point despite their increasing demoralization. What is it?

            While researchers have studied the reasons teachers leave, we know less about why teachers stay. It is important to explore how teachers work to mitigate constraints to their profession and professional identity in order to remain. In other words, what prevents teachers who are resisting challenges to their professionalism from leaving? I offer an exploration of the constrains on teachers’ professionalism and the extent to which service-learning may assuage or help teachers resist them. In a 2003 article, Dan Butin asserts that service-learning is one way teachers can counter current educational contexts in that it emphasizes real-world learning and reciprocity between schools and communities. With teacher attrition and dissatisfaction at the forefront of conversations on education, it is important to illuminate the extent to which participating in a service-learning teacher network and pedagogy serves teachers as a response to deprofessionalizing forces.

            My study involves the collection of observation, interview, and artifact data over the course of 16 months. The purpose is to gain an in depth understanding of why teachers seek to incorporate service-learning and how this affects their practice and identity within current educational contexts. It asks: What assumptions and motivations shape teachers’ participation in a service-learning practice and community of practice and how does their participation affect their professional practice and identity?

            I am not simply asking why teachers choose service-learning. The fact that, in doing so, they are also electing to be part of a community of practice, or network, of teachers committed to some extent to this pedagogy (or perhaps the choice happens in reverse) makes my question more complex. That is where I benefit as a budding Temple Digital Scholar. I will use the training and support offered by Temple Digital Scholars to analyze the Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram feeds of this community of practice in order to gain a deeper understanding of what assumptions the community holds, what motivation participation in this community offers teachers, and how this relates to teachers’ professional practice and identity. 




1 comment

An important project that I really want to see work, and your study of the impact of online service-learning on retention is really promising. Looking forward to seeing it come to fruition this year!