A collective and collaborative stance is difficult to reach in education. Teachers spend most of their time alone with their students in classrooms. Little time is devoted to working with fellow teachers, skills of collaboration are sometimes underdeveloped… and peer-pressure can build up. For example, I have seen teachers trying to implement innovations in their approaches in teaching to then be faced with pressure from different stakeholders: the school authorities, local government, parents, etc. Unfortunately but not surprisingly, one of the directions which pressure comes from are other teachers and colleagues. Trainee-teachers I work with discuss how they are often baffled by peer-pressure among teachers. We observe a variety of types of this phenomenon:
- Teacher forming cliques
- Spreading rumours on teachers who are unconventional
- Old generation confronting the young generation of teachers or vice versa
- Competition between factions pushing for different principles
Finding the way to cope with this pressure can be tricky. Faced with such pressure teachers can lose their sense of self-efficacy and agency. They sometimes have to accept to become outcasts in their schools, with colleagues criticising them. They might then react by thinking ‘I don’t need confirmation from teachers but from my students”. They become lonely fighters who cannot change the system so they change themselves. They tend to:
- Disappear, watching their steps (as on a minefield)
- Keep a distance from peers (‘let’s not engage’)
- Revert to sarcasm (‘oh these fossilized teachers…’)
- Move to a different school
- Try to compromise and lose momentum.
All of these positions are hard to hold emotionally, and the strategies employed are mostly lonely and exclusive.
We no longer do ‘window teaching’ now and we actually have stopped all teacher training and peer training in our school, because our efforts produced resistance, fear and envy among many of our colleagues.
C.B. Teacher in Germany
It is worth thinking about and finding the way to involve other teachers around us in changes, to motivate them to cooperate while respecting our differences. Once teachers are together they can start thinking about how to influence the institutions. Collectively, educators, students, parents need to consider that institutions belong to ‘us’, and not to some far away elites.
This means to compel an inclusive approach with students, teachers, admins and policy makers. Of course, it demands courage and determination on the part of teachers… but good things are not easy to get.