“Talking back to your parents or teacher” may be a common definition of “insubordination.” But “failure to perform duties as directed” is the professional definition of insubordination.
A teacher can be as pleasant and polite as possible, and still be insubordinate. When teachers sign a contract to teach, they agree to carry out all the professional duties and policies specified by the local and state school boards. Failure to carry out such duties is insubordination. For example, taking daily attendance is a critical duty that is the basis for state aid per pupil as well as knowing where children are while we are “in the place of parents.” Accidently skipping attendance is an “oops”—not a big problem if the teacher gets back to it the next day. But a teacher who will not take attendance would be insubordinate and could be fired.
In contrast, “creative insubordination” is a strategy that teachers quietly use (although this term has probably never appeared in print until now). It is a tactic used by teachers to continue teaching their students effectively when faced with questionable new fads.
Oppressive education reforms accelerated in the early 1970s. “Individualized instruction” was a well-intentioned theory that everyone could independently “learn at their own rate.” It ignored the reality that nearly all students learn more efficiently studying together in the rich context of a classroom. Teachers who tried individualized instruction saw its problems within a semester and brought their classes back to the same task while keeping a few projects to convince administrators they were still individualizing. That was “creative insubordination.”
“Open classrooms” was another ivory-tower fad building schools without classroom walls for reasons few can remember today. Teachers quietly added portable blackboards and file cabinets to restore walls and regain their students’ attention—“creative insubordination.”
Under “cooperative learning,” all lessons were to be group projects assigned one group grade, a system that promoted cheating: the motivated student did the work and the slackers shared that same grade. When strategies for forcing other team members to work and learn were mostly ineffective, many teachers kept a few token projects but returned to grading student’s work separately—“creative insubordination.”
In response to over two dozen recent reforms, veteran teachers have smiled and said “yes” to administrators imposing the fad, and then closed their classroom door and (to the extent possible) continued with effective teaching practices that they know work.
Many veteran teachers will smile at my description of their strategy. But ed school educationists and curriculum specialists in public schools complain that such teachers have been subverting their reforms. “Open classrooms or cooperative learning would have worked if only teachers had believed in it,” they assert. So it is now more difficult for teachers to exercise any professional discretion or make an end-run around bad reforms.
Today, if a teacher continues to teach what is relevant to students’ backgrounds and unique career aspirations rather than the standardized cookie-cutter curriculum, this failure to teach-to-the-test will result in not making adequate yearly progress (AYP). The whole school will fail, and it will be this teacher’s fault! Today’s system forces teachers who are in the pre-assessment curriculum to toe-the-line. More-and-more, the only happy teachers I see are those teaching outside or above the assessment tracks.
Just as many of today’s reforms suppress creativity in students, we are also making it difficult for teachers to be “creatively insubordinate.”