Today I am cleaning out my office. Out go all the sketched diagrams, the ideas jotted down on countless scraps of paper, the rulers, grids, empty coffee cups, receipts, USB’s and flipshares. It marks a new beginning.
As of Monday I stop collecting data for the PhD, I stop talking to the very people I’m hoping to help and I stop thinking about teaching and learning and move entirely to analysis. The data collection phase is over.
To be honest, it was hard to see this day coming.
Over the last two years I’ve concentrated on seeing through a fairly ambitious project plan. The plan required that I build relationships with organisations, tutors and learners and get inside the mind of each of them (primarily the learner). As a tutor I know how uncomfortable it can be to allow a researcher into your private domain of the classroom. A lot of energy was expended early in the project developing access to organisations. In fact this was one of my high risk areas. What if no one let me in?
Some more challenging aspects included talking to managers who don’t know me, and quickly articulating my values, purpose and needs within a five or ten minute conversation. Their question is ‘why would I let you look around in my organisation? I don't know you and you could be potentially destructive”. I have to answer that question and demonstrate what I might offer them. However, generally it has been down to managers recognising that both them and I share the same values and outcomes – to improve the lives of disadvantaged learners. I never had a single manager say no and that is because I have never met a manager in this sector who didn’t share those values.
One of the most demanding parts of the research was walking into a classroom of suspicious adults ‘cold’, building rapport instantly, and then getting their consent to participate. This was really tough and required clear messaging and frank honesty. It also cost a lot of time and money. I have driven multiple times to Auckland only to find three or four learners in attendance. Or I have spent hours upon hours gaining access through managers, then tutors (each requiring a separate visit to Auckland), only to have a small number of learners available due to attrition. However, the process has been wonderfully enlightening and I wouldn't change anything if I could.
The project has included:
- Visiting 12 different educational organisations
- Speaking to the learners and tutors of 23 different education programmes
- Talking with over 200 adult learners
- Teaching a numeracy/math class to high need learners
I have also had the opportunity to interview many adult learners and hear their stories. Some are simply tragic, and I have come away with a new dedication to my original mission statement.
Re-engaging adults with their dreams, passions and potentials through maths education.
There are large numbers of people who are emotionally wounded and hamstrung by their life experiences. Education has a bigger role in this than you might think. Our early experiences with education shapes our self-identity and the shadow stretches long. I had a 57 year old lady tell me that the feeling she got sitting on the mat in primary school when the other children laughed at her, is the same feeling she fears in her current class. 50 years later and the scars are still having an impact.
My opinions have hardened in a few places also as a result of the research and I have to be sensitive about how I articulate them to the sector. The education system is dysfunctional at a macro and a micro level. The dysfunction runs so deep that no single change would correct it. But the stakes are high.
This week I interviewed a man whose early life was terrible through no fault of his own. It stripped him of confidence and knowledge and has set his life on a path that simply isn’t fair. It has been hard. He is a causality of the system. It’s not fair and I’m not sure how to change that. I do know that my current influence in the sector is limited and I need to do something about that.
There is the upside. People are strong, they have big hearts, they care, they have unique ideas and gifts and styles and talents. And God loves the little guy.
Thank you everyone who helped me with this project – there are some of you that I couldn't have done this without. Thanks for trusting me, letting me in, and being part of the project.
From here on in I write. The pressure is on to now to actually produce something. The clock is ticking.