Teachers enact their agency when they make decisions informed by, and aligned with, their beliefs and values. A balanced view of teacher agency attends to the interaction of the agent with structural and contextual influences. Agency can be enacted individually, in relation with others with similar beliefs and contexts, and/or collectively with others who possess disparate talents and operate in other contexts. Enacted in these ways, teacher agency provides avenues for critiquing and combatting the status quo in schools, providing children from minoritized backgrounds with equitable access to educational opportunities, and collaborating with stakeholders from outside of the educational institutions. While there is great potential for teacher agency to contribute to positive changes in the profession of teaching, in educational settings, and in the broader community, there are misperceptions (e.g., agency is classroom-bound, agency is fixed and invariable, agency is always about resistance) that sometimes limit educators’ abilities to enact agency. In order to support teacher agency, teacher educators must examine their curricula, their roles and responsibilities in supporting preservice and in-service teachers’ understandings of agency, and their own willingness to act as agents of change.
Ryan Flessner and Brooke Kandel-Cisco
Kurt Stemhagen and Tamara Sober
There are a variety of ways in which teachers engage in activism. Teachers working for social change within their classrooms and teachers who engage in advocacy and organize to influence policy, law, and society are all doing work that falls under the umbrella of teacher activism. While there are numerous catalysts, many teachers become activists when they encounter unjust educational or social structures. There are also considerable obstacles to teachers recognizing their potential power as activists. From the gendered history of teaching to the widespread conception of teaching as a solitary and not a collective enterprise, there is rarely an easy path toward activism. The importance of collective as opposed to individual social action among teachers is increasingly recognized. Many cities now have teacher activist organizations, a group of which have come together and created a national coalition of teacher activist groups. Overall, teacher activism is an underresearched and undertheorized academic area of study. Possibilities for collective action should be fully explored.