Upon the rejection of a research article, nightmare and hope

5 min read

I have a number of research strands going on at the moment. There is my research into mathematics teachers’ professional development – this goes back to my interests as a teacher and head of department and was followed up with my PhD research at the University of Nottingham. I also have an interest in learning processes in mathematics education, particular around school students engaged in rich tasks and problem solving. This relates, also, to my experiences as a teacher and again was something I looked at obliquely in my PhD research. The professional development I evaluated was to support teachers in implementing approaches that promoted the learning of problem-solving skills.

And then of course – those of you who have been reading my blogposts will know – I have got increasingly interested in political economy and public spending. This a result of my professional development research. I recognised, as part of this research, there are significant constraints and limitations on teachers in having access to good quality professional development. I followed the money, and power, and identified the source of these limitations. You really only have to look at Marx and Keynes to begin to comprehend the basis of decisions about the funding of the public sector. It is not based on a rationality of equity.

I am not going to mention my work on geodemographics here with Tim Mullen-Furness. That’s for another day.

While my research has grown to be diverse, I look up and down my inquiry trail. For a number of reasons, I find myself looking deeply, again, into professional development research particularly in respect to mathematics teachers. In part, this is prompted by the death of my PhD supervisor, Malcolm Swan. Sadly gone too soon. But also by the unexpected rejection of a research article. I submitted a theoretical/ empirical paper to a journal early in 2016. It came back in late summer with the ‘accept subject to major revisions’ tab. I duly revised and wrote a report about my changes and resubmitted. This was last September.

The night before last (these things always seem to come late at night and I always foolishly look at them) I received an email from the editor rejecting the paper. I had expected the reviewers to judge my paper based on the original reviews. But they had looked at it afresh. And rejected the blighter.

‘They have bloody well moved the goal posts’ I thought to myself angrily, as I laid a wake with insomnia. Insomnia directly related to my decision to look at and contemplate the email from the editor. In those dark hours, one can grow irrational. I do. I always have. I enter a dark terrain, like a bad acid trip. I began to consider that this single event may have a catastrophic effect on my progression from probation to tenure. Foolish and irrational, I know, over such a relatively small setback.

But it has focussed my mind on the overall purpose of my research and the direction in which it is going. While I have been merrily skipping on, on to new ground, it has taken me back. It has made me review my core interest. That of professional learning.

I need to thank my resplendent colleague Rupert Higham for his generous mentoring yesterday morning. He has inspired and encouraged me, as has done in the past, to steer my course as I feel appropriate. I must follow my water. He helped me make sense of myself.

In spite of the journal editor and reviewers’ final response to my piece. I recognise that I have been trying to bung my theoretical act onto an empirical stage. I am not anti empirical, its just that I am a thinker and schemer. Those dark terrains, the bad acid trips are the dark side of my imagination. The positive side of my imagination, the hope and vision that my overdosed imagination has given me has always outweighed the negative. As I have got older I can manage and ride out the extreme imagined fear knowing that experiences and people (and a good night’s sleep) can restore my positive frame.

The experience of this, in the last couple of days and the shocking events in Manchester, have, oddly, resulted in me being buoyant today. There are so many challenges in the world, on an unthinkable scale. But today I see my place, the way in which I can contribute, the way in which I can use my imagination to see a better world and contribute to some solutions.

 

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