A group of us just had a proposal accepted for AERA on teacher resistance, as part of a symposium on that topic. Our paper will be on how the teachers we are studying “teach between the lines,” finding ways to “live with” system mandates and teach (in varying degrees) in a holistic, constructivist manner.
I (Clive) just came across a very relevant quote in Nel Noddings’ 2013 book Education and Democracy in the 21st Century that will help us as we write the paper. She says:
“[In this book] we will consider how schools can help students to achieve satisfying lives in three great domains: home, occupation, and civic life…. [H]owever, I want to make it clear that I do not foresee dramatic changes in the basic structure of curriculum in America. We have to work within that basic structure. Sadly, I think we will go right on with English, mathematics, social studies, science, and foreign languages as the backbone of our curriculum. Indeed, if we continue in the direction we are now headed, the curriculum will become even more isolated from real life and its subjects more carefully separated from one another. It is this tendency that we should resist, and effective resistance will require collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity.” (p. 11, my italics)
Wow! While talking strongly of resistance Noddings says we have to work within the system, which if anything will get worse. What then does resistance mean?
It can mean campaigning publically against the retrograde measures; or negotiating at the school level to modify their implementation. Or it can mean finding holes – or “interstices” as the post-structuralists say – within the system that enable teachers to teach the way they believe in, to the extent possible.
This third approach is important because it allows teachers to keep their jobs and continue to be there for their students. We mustn’t dismiss this type of resistance as mere compromise. Rather, we must join with teachers in looking for ways to teach well within the system. And teacher educators must discuss the challenges and possible strategies at length with their students, so they come to teaching prepared to teach between the lines, rather than having to figure it out on their own.