Academic Freedom

Free School Child's Hands Choosing Colored Pencils (unedited) Creative Commons

How much academic freedom do you have at your school?

In most places where I have worked, I have had some, but nowhere have I had as much as I do at the Weber School. In most places, if I wanted to teach a book that was not in the curriculum, a process was in place to evaluate the book, and in the end, I may or may not be able to teach it. In my first teaching position, I had a great deal of freedom because the school was in a state of disarray. I ordered a set of To Kill a Mockingbird books, and the purchase order was signed without question. In the second position, I needed to use the books I already had in my classroom for my Honors students, and I needed to use what we had in the book room for the others. In most places that meant I had some choice. I did not have to teach book X during time slot Y, but there were certain non-negotiables. I couldn’t choose to skip Romeo and Juliet in ninth grade, for instance, but my novel selection might be The Pigman or it might be something else.

While it’s still true that there are certain non-negotiables regarding works such as Romeo and JulietThe Odyssey, and the like, I have more choice in my current position. If I wanted to introduce a new book in my course, I could order it for the following year, and there would be no real process aside from ordering it. Our school orders paperback copies of novels and other consumable texts so that students may annotate. I am hoping down the road we can do more with Kindles, which would be cheaper to order for each student than copies of the texts we use.

I have, however, heard of some schools in which teachers follow what amounts to a scripted curriculum and need to be on a certain page on a certain day and have no choice regarding texts they teach. While such a curriculum ensures that students will be exposed to certain things on a defined timetable, it takes away creativity and doesn’t play to a teacher’s passions. I couldn’t teach like that.
Creative Commons License photo credit: Pink Sherbet Photography

12 thoughts on “Academic Freedom”

  1. I have the same amount of academic freedom that you do–one of the perks of being in an independent school, I think, though I know of at least one independent school that is much more lock-step. I simply can't imagine teaching that way, and the creativity it must take to stay interesting within such structure, for you and for the students!

    1. It's one of the reasons I stay at my school. Some independent schools don't offer as much freedom, though, like you said. I can't teach like that, either.

  2. I feel as if I have a lot of freedom at my school, but my school too wants teachers to be teaching the same units at the same time. But I can make suggestions and I feel that they give me a good bit of leeway. However, just this past Thursday I had to be out and my former dept. chair subbed for me (she's retired). She criticized what I was doing to my co-teacher and to my students….and all because, I feel, it wasn't something she approved of. What really griped me was that she did all of that without talking to me about my overall plan.

  3. Like Knighton's former DC, I'm retired. Kinda sounds as if we approached the DC thing differently, though, because the last few years, to be honest, I was more likely to ignore outside pressure than not. I was tired of the politics.

    Being tired of it, though, doesn't really mean we can ignore it: how in the world do we get to the place where the diploma your school awards can be placed on a scale with the diploma that my school awards?

    (No. I'm not in favor of marching lockstep over an academic cliff. But I'm in favor of a high-school diploma meaning something relatively similar regardless of the names of the instructors).

    1. I don't think we can, given that my school is a private school with a dual curriculum in Judaics and academics. However, we do meet state requirements for Georgia colleges admittance such as a certain number of years of English, math, science, social studies, and foreign language. Even the state doesn't specify what those have to be, though. The only English class required by Georgia is American Literature. Beyond that, schools can choose a variety of curricula, although most do what is easy based on textbooks. Ninth grade is an introduction to literature, tenth is often an introduction to world literature (but sometimes American literature), eleventh is either American literature or sometimes British literature, and twelfth is British literature or world literature or some other course like it. Our school district offers different courses in twelfth grade. Some schools don't offer all the choices, but others do.

  4. I completely agree with what you're saying in this post.

    There is a distinct lack of creativity in teaching, and I recall being specifically told at recruitment onto ITT that teaching is a creative career where you can teach exactly how you want. The actual practice is very different.

    1. It sure is, and yet I think all the rhetoric directed at teachers nowadays is that folks actually think teachers are doing whatever they want and it's not good for students.

  5. When I taught in Kentucky, we were expected to be on the same book, same page, same supporting resources each day. It was aggravating, especially since it was my first year, the school was transitioning to this rigid curriculum, and the other teacher who taught freshman English seemed unwilling to share what she was doing with me.

    Where I am now, I have a lot of freedom for two reasons: we only have one school in our district and I'm the only one teaching sophomore English. Because of this, I can choose what I want each year, and there's not really any process I have to go through to get my books approved, as long as my lesson plans show that I'm teaching the standards. This has allowed me to teach Twelfth Night instead of Julius Caesar. As long as the book, story or poem isn't being taught by another teacher, it's fair game.

    I love this because it gives me the flexibility to change things up if a book becomes stale after a few years. I know of a few friends of mine who have left teaching because they were in large urban districts with multiple schools that required each teach in the district be at the same page everyday. It causes teacher burnout very quickly. In less than three years, I witnessed one of the most passionate and creative of my friends from college leave the profession all together because the expectation was unrealistic and stifling.

    1. That's another reason my first school offered some freedom—I did A Midsummer Night's Dream instead of Julius Caesar for nearly the same reason. We did have other teachers teaching the same grade, but the other sophomore teacher didn't like Shakespeare and didn't teach him. No one talked to me about what I was doing or made sure the kids were learning. I didn't even have an observation!

  6. I am doing my student teaching this year. I was not expecting to have the freedom I have. I think as a first year teacher, it has been a really wonderful way to begin. I have to work even harder, but I think starting my teaching career out that way is a great thing.

    I don't mean that I hope to one day work at a school where they tell me what to teach when. I guess I thought I would be fine with that this year, but as the school year is winding down, I realize what a unique and educational experience this really has been.

    1. Academic freedom is one of the main reasons I have been at my school for going on eight years. It's been really important for my growth as a teacher.

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