Social Education 57(3), 1993, pp. 121
1993 National Council for the Social Studies
Where Have We Been on This Topic?
This teaching/coaching topic has generated considerable interest whenever I have presented or mentioned the results at conferences. Invariably, the discussion, either with groups or with individuals, leads to sharing anecdotes about social studies teacher/coaches, and almost everyone seems to have had a related experience. In a required research course in the graduate education programs at Seattle Pacific University, students are asked to critique the research design, statistical methods employed, and strengths and weaknesses of a number of research articles; one of these required articles is my teaching/ coaching study. Invariably, whether the course is taught by me or by another professor, this article generates the most discussion and interest. It is difficult, however, to focus the discussion on methodological questions because the students are much more interested in talking about their own observations on the topic, and every teacher seems to know or have known a teacher/coach who fits the uncomplimentary stereotype. It is my impression that the Bruckerhoff observations cited by Van Deraa and Schug about the division in a social studies department are not uncommon.
I began my career twenty-one years ago as a social studies teacher/coach, and I know these views have been around at least that long. In preparing the manuscript for the 1989 article, however, I found that the social studies literature was completely devoid of even the most general reference to this negative perception of social studies teacher/ coaches, much less any empirical data. After talking with several colleagues, including Ron VanSickle, then editor of the Research Department for Social Education, I realized that the profession has been ignoring this issue, which may be part of a much larger issue.
Same Method, Opposite Results
When research is replicated and contradictory results obtained, it is common to challenge the degree to which the researchers were true to the original design. In this instance, however, I am satisfied that-with one exception, and with very minor variations-Van Deraa and Schug were quite successful in their replication. Given the strength of the "popular school folklore," when I was told a replication study was being undertaken, I expected the results to be similar to mine, or at least that the replication findings would report no difference between coaches and noncoaches. I was not surprised, however, by their findings because exploratory research is used to identify variables for further study, and preliminary studies seldom, if ever, result in clear cause-and-effect relationships. The Van Deraa and Schug study has shown that to be the case with coaching. That is why I speculated at the end of my article about time, energy, and teacher attitudes as the reasons coaching status might have given those results.
How, then, to explain their results, which are the direct opposite of the results I obtained? The most obvious answer has to do with the samples used. In my study, the coaches and noncoaches did not vary in age or teaching experience, while in the replication study the coaching teachers were younger and had less experience than the noncoaching teachers. Thus, the replication study suggests that younger teachers' classrooms differ from older teachers' classrooms, a plausible explanation for the differences. In other words, through the selection process, the replication study was not able to control for teacher age and experience in the sample, a viable rival hypothesis.
Although age and teaching experience may be confounding variables, are they strong enough to produce results so totally opposite of my original findings? Perhaps, but let us assume for a moment that age and teaching experience had been successfully controlled in the replication study sample. What then? It is quite possible that one or both of the samples may be extraordinary (that is, biased). Or, it may be that our samples represent two distinct populations reflecting school district or regional differences.
My results should not be taken as an indictment against all social studies teacher/coaches. Although not reported in my article, I did find that a few of the teacher/coaches were among the most innovative of the teachers and had excellent classroom environments. My results were reported as a generalization, however, and there will, of course, always be exceptions to generalizations. I know many good social studies teacher/coaches exist. Generally speaking, from my sample, however, coaches tend to provide what we think of as less desirable classroom environments. It does not surprise me that another sample may have a larger number of effective teacher/ coaches.
In essence, it is possible that our samples reflect two different populations, that is, districts with different hiring priorities, practices, and unwritten policies. Does the district hire the best teachers possible with priority given to teaching, and then ask them to coach? Are limits placed on their coaching? Or does the district hire coaches first and place them in the social studies classroom as a secondary concern or under the assumption that anyone can teach social studies? It is quite possible to envision districts at both ends of the spectrum, and everywhere in between, in any given building or particular circumstance. It is also easy to imagine districts converting from one practice to another over time as administrators and district priorities change. In other words, both the findings of the original and the replication study could be true. Many possibilities become clear when these district variables are considered.
I do not believe that coaching automatically makes a teacher a poor teacher. Coaching status was the categorical variable I used because it was an easy status to obtain and is widely discussed. I, too, would question the "legitimacy of blaming coaching teachers for poor teaching performance or lack of innovation" (Van Deraa and Schug's words). The intent of the original research was not to blame anyone for anything, but to see if a common perception had any truth to it. Among my sample from a specific population, evidence exists that it may well be true. Not surprisingly, Van Deraa and Schug's evidence indicates that it is not just coaching itself that may be involved, but other related variables.
Where Are We Now?
Isolating variables to show cause and effect has proven extremely difficult in educational research because of the complexity of the variables we must consider. Yet, we must start somewhere in exploratory research, and clear categorical variables (in this case, coaching status) is where we have started. These two studies have shown that coaching is in some way related to classroom performance, either directly or indirectly.
The uncomplimentary social studies teacher/coach perception, whether myth or fact, is a long-held belief among many in the profession. I concluded my article in 1989 by offering two possible explanations of why coaching might be related to less desirable classroom environments: (1) time and energy devoted to coaching may detract from time and energy devoted to teaching, and (2) interest in teaching may take a secondary position to interest in coaching. I based these explanations on my own personal experience and observations as a social studies teacher/coach, and on my discussions over the years with other social studies professionals at all levels. I still believe there is an element of truth to the stereotype-that is, that there are a number of teacher/coaches whose classroom performance is inferior. As my results suggested, in the metropolitan area in which I conducted my research that was generally the case. At the same time, I also recognize that it need not be so, for there are some good social studies teachers who also coach (I have known some personally). As Van Deraa and Schug's results suggested, there were many of this type in their population.
So where does this leave us? Research always points out the need for more research; more questions are posed by our results than are answered. Much more sophisticated research methodologies will be needed to unravel the complex variables involved, but I am pleased to see a second article in Social Education devoted to this topic because we have overlooked it for too long. At the root of this question is a basic concern for the profession. We want the best teachers possible in our social studies classrooms. If coaching, or any other practice, interferes with that end, it should be examined closely. Are we admitting people into our programs who truly want to be social studies teachers first and foremost? Are they the best students academically, or do the social studies curricula at the university level attract a less academically capable student? And finally, are districts hiring and assigning the best possible teachers to the social studies classes? These are the issues that will determine the quality of social education in our schools.
Fraenkel, Jack R. "Toward Improving Research in Social Studies Education." Theory and Research in Social Education 15 (1987): 203-22.Nelson, Jack L., and James P. Shaver. "On Research in Social Education." In Review of Research in Social Studies Education: 1976-1983, edited by W. B. Stanley. Washington, D.C.: National Council for the Social Studies, 1985.Jeffrey T. Fouts is Associate Dean of the School of Education at Seattle Pacific University in Seattle, Washington 98119.