We cannot have an educational culture that respects the individuality of students and allows their classes to develop their own character without restoring much of the professional autonomy of teachers that has been lost to accountability-driven reform. As Stanford University’s Larry Cuban explained, top-down reformers have long made recurring efforts to curtail the professional autonomy of teachers in order to impose standardization of classroom instruction. Cuban described this micromanaging as “teacher bashing” or “blaming teachers for resisting changes.” School reformers have repeatedly attacked the professional autonomy of teachers, basically asking, “Why can’t teachers simply change their shoes, pull up their socks, and get on with the changes for God’s sake?”
Historically, teachers have pushed back and quietly reasserted a measure of control of their classrooms. The result is a system of “constrained autonomy” or a shifting balance of power between classroom teachers and those who seek to supervise us. And, I believe history will repeat itself. The childhood experiences of today’s teacher candidates may have been constrained by the culture of teach-to-the-test, but at some point they will fight back and refuse to impose this pedagogy on the next generation.
And let’s not forget that autonomy is one of the key ingredients in what motivates us (see Daniel Pink‘s Drive). Is it any wonder teachers are leaving the profession as their autonomy is continually eroded?