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Are compliant teachers effective?

Updated: Apr 17, 2023

by Rebecca Thomas

After recently reading an old paper where two case studies tried to pinpoint how to tackle educational disparities, whilst being stuck in an era of increased accountability and standardisation, it got me thinking about education's perpetual state of reform.

The teachers in this particular study, due to the external pressures, were eventually led to implement a narrower curriculum and so began the actual marginalisation of the teachers themselves. It was titled, Personal Consequences of compliance and resistance to mandated reforms for teachers in low-performing schools.

The more I thought about it, the more It got me thinking about the consequences of outside forces on our teachers and students.

One teacher in the study quoted:

“I realise that my job is more and more determined by someone outside of my classroom, someone who does not observe the reality of his pronouncement on my day to day decisions.”

-Mrs. Morse (pseudonym name for the case study)

The reason this case study drew my attention in the first place was due to the contextual background that surrounded it, some of it may sound familiar. The context indicated that there was:

  • Consensus that more effective teaching was needed

  • Non-consensus in how to achieve this goal

  • Constant changes of teachers roles without any evidence of student achievement

  • Top down mandates challenging teacher autonomy

  • Prescriptive solutions

Luckily, it had a happy ending. The more the educators resisted the politics, and the more they wrapped their beliefs in caring, the more engaged and creative they became at solving their own problems.

So, it got me thinking, are compliant teachers effective?

At present, post pandemic, we are going through a period of necessary compliance. We are unpacking and half implementing changes and theories ahead of an election. We are trying hard to tackle disparities and learning loss.

Whilst we are spending time on these processes, it may also be keeping us from valuable time: being reflective, recrafting lesson ideas, providing scaffolding for students who need it, being responsive to need, time to engage in effective learning.

Then I think back to what my 15 year old son told me the other day, the fact that all he wants is his teacher to share the problems of his world, to make a connection to his daily struggles. Maybe his teacher would love to talk to him and find out what he thinks of about ChatGTP, bullying and AI. Maybe she would like to help him understand himself and his world. But, maybe she is also caught up in unpacking changes and new acronyms, maybe she is being coerced into focusing on the things that are not that relevant to my son.

My son, however, will be in her classroom for the next three terms - blink and we miss it. No doubt she will continue to try to be caring and try to cater for what her students really need, but she will also be distracted by those external forces. Time focusing on those ‘bigger distractions’ is time taken away from our students and what they need, right here, right now.

Instruction, it appears, may now become defined by factors external to our classrooms and external to the relationships with our students.

Validating our students' lived experiences while attempting to adhere to standards and mandates is a difficult climate to be in, just be mindful educators, take some time as we reach this cross road and this dilemma. Sometimes at the expense of compliance we reduce the creative moments available to our teachers, and decrease their ability to have agency for those in their care today.

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