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Mason Professor Receives Award for ‘Vision’ Research

December 19, 2017

When Seth Parsons arrived at Mason in 2008, he was curious about something. Teaching can obviously be a tough job. So what makes a teacher stick it out?

“There has to be something that sustains excellent teachers who remain in the field,” says Parsons, an associate professor in the College of Education and Human Development (CEHD).

He got to work. Nearly a decade later, with several colleagues, Parsons published “The Development of Teachers’ Visions from Pre-service to Their First Years Teaching: A Longitudinal Study.” In February, the paper will be awarded the 2018 Distinguished Research in Teacher Education Award by the Association of Teacher Educators.

The paper was a result of a seven-year study, in which Parsons and his colleagues connected with new teachers and followed them through their nascent careers, interviewing them and visiting their classrooms.

The researchers started by determining nine teachers’ visions—their explanations of what keeps them going and sustains them during the difficult moments of their profession. And then they kept communicating with the teachers to see how their visions changed as their careers changed. The expectation was that certain milestones—such as leaving their university, student teaching, and getting their own classroom—would coincide with a change in vision./

But to the researchers’ surprise, the teachers’ visions didn’t really change. Sometimes the visions were challenged by obstacles of the profession—for instance, restrictive curricula or a focus on test scores over specific student development—but went unchanged. In many cases, teachers faced with these obstacles “went rogue” or continued to put more focus on the individualized needs of the students.

“What’s really important is best meeting students’ needs,” Parsons explains.

The four authors currently represent a cross-section of American universities: Margaret Vaughn at the University of Idaho, Jacquelynn Malloy at Clemson University, Melissa Pierczynski at Grand Valley State University in Michigan, and Parsons.

The reason four researchers from such varied universities worked together? They all have a Mason connection, whether directly or by association. Parsons and Malloy were hired at Mason at about the same time years ago, and they conceptualized the study together. Vaughn and Parsons were doctoral students together. And Pierczynski was Parsons’s graduate research assistant as data were being analyzed.

Together, now separated by hundreds of miles, they were able to add to the research knowledge base—and will be rewarded for the impact of their research.

“I loved that I was able to do it with colleagues that I really value as well as a doctoral student I mentored along the way,” Parsons says. “We really pride ourselves on taking teacher education seriously. We truly believe that teachers really matter.”