By Quiocho, Alice; Stall, Pat
Leadership , Vol. 37, No. 5
Since the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, more commonly known as No Child Left Behind, federal and state governments have taken a larger role in prescribing curriculum and methodology to teachers in low-performing schools. While teacher autonomy and decision-making have been cited in numerous studies as key elements contributing to job satisfaction in the teaching profession, the imposition of NCLB regulations can limit teacher autonomy and decision-making.
An initial review of the literature indicates few studies regarding teacher autonomy and job satisfaction since the implementation of NCLB. As teacher educators, we began to notice a trend in the stories our graduate students (practicing teachers) were relaying about the curriculum decisions made at their schools. Since both of the authors began their teaching careers 25-30 years ago, the level of autonomy for teachers has decreased.
To validate the anecdotal information shared by our graduate students, we felt the need to more systematically determine the extent to which teachers felt restricted by NCLB requirements regarding curriculum decisions and methodology implementation. Additionally, we were curious about teachers' perceptions regarding the level of administrative support they felt for teacher voice and input regarding curriculum and methodology decisions.
We often discussed the high level of autonomy and creativity we had experienced as classroom teachers and the job satisfaction that offered to us. Ultimately, we wondered if current restrictions affect the overall climate and perceptions of support for practicing teachers.
Supporting teachers and their learning
For a theoretical framework, we turned to Lee Shulman (2003), who suggests a model for looking at ways to support teachers and their learning. The model includes the following components:
* Engagement and motivation
* Knowledge and understanding
* Performance and action
* Reflection and critique
* Judgment and design
* Commitment and identity
The model suggests that teachers keep engaged in and motivated about their own professional development. Teachers should be encouraged to put what they know into practice. Performance and reflective practice lead to action and a commitment to change, but only when teachers can dialogue about their work and about student work, and be engaged in professional development focused on students' specific needs. Only then can teachers feel professional and connected to their schools and careers.
Traditionally, the nature of teaching has offered a great deal of discretion or empowerment and control. In the 1980s and 1990s, much of the efforts in school reform were based on empowering schools and teachers to discern and enact changes they determined were in the best interests of their school's circumstances. Short (1998) believes that schools cannot, in fact, change when participants are not empowered or feel a sense of ownership.
Based on Short's notion, we conclude that when a school is determined by NCLB regulations to be low-performing and in need of change, it seems that teacher autonomy and empowerment are necessary to enact new ideas and changes. However, when schools in need of change are limited to a narrow range of curriculum and methodology choices, the question then arises, "Does the limitation of teacher autonomy in curriculum and methodology choices unwittingly undermine the potential success of the changes?"
In a study of external partners in school reform in Chicago, Sunderman and Nardini (1999) found that if teacher autonomy was not included in the design of the reform, institutionalization and long-term change was unlikely. Part of the conflict, they argue, can be attributed to the discrepancy in priorities between teachers and school administrators. While teachers tend to be particularly concerned with their students, organizations must adhere to system-wide goals, often guided by state and federal regulations. …