Classroom Power Relations: Understanding Student-Teacher Interaction

Classroom Power Relations: Understanding Student-Teacher Interaction

Classroom Power Relations: Understanding Student-Teacher Interaction

Classroom Power Relations: Understanding Student-Teacher Interaction

Synopsis

This book is based on a careful theorizing of classroom power relations that sees them as constructed from the actions of all participants. Contrary to the common assumption that the teacher is the source of classroom power, it sees that power as arising from the interaction between students and teachers. If power is owned by the teacher, she is completely responsible for events in the classroom, whether or not she chooses to share her power/control/authority with the students. If, as this book claims, power is the joint creation of all participants, teachers are freed from an excessive and damaging weight of responsibility for classroom events and outcomes. The shared responsibility between students and teachers for what happens in the classroom is brought to light.

Based on an ethnographic study of three elementary classrooms, this book offers a careful look at the workings of classroom power. It is of interest both to those seeking to understand power relations from this theoretical viewpoint and to those whose concern is with the daily workings of classrooms, often called classroom management. Questions explored in this book include:

• How do teachers organize time and space in classrooms as part of their contribution to the development of classroom power relations?

• What kinds of discourse choices do they make, and why?

• How do students contribute to defining what will count as classroom knowledge, and how do they resist teacher agendas as they play their part in constructing classroom power relations?

Excerpt

This book is written for teachers, future teachers, and teacher educators, in the hope that it will be useful to them as they consider how students and teachers together construct their lives in classrooms.

Based on an ethnographic study of three elementary classrooms, the book reflects my understanding and interpretation of power relations as I observed them. It is centered on a constructivist view of power relations, not as brought into classrooms from the outside world, by the teacher or anyone else, but as created inside classrooms through the actions of teachers and students that take place every day.

As I worked with the data I had collected and as I applied the concepts I was developing to thinking about my own teaching, I understood more clearly the potential usefulness of the view of power relations I was forming. In every classroom, whether or not the teacher is trying to share power, control, or authority with the students, students participate with teachers in developing the classroom's power relations--the set of local rules that determines what teachers and students can actually do in that classroom. In a political world in which teachers are constantly held responsible for every outcome of classroom life, this concept has promise for helping teachers perceive their classrooms as places in which they and the students are working together, and are jointly responsible for outcomes. This realistic basis for understanding classroom life can be helpful to teachers, and perhaps reduce some of the stress that comes from taking sole responsibility for what happens in their classrooms.

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