Teachers, Autonomy, and the Quest for Negotiations
These days, I find myself having many opportunities to interact with teachers, and it's become evident that they are eager to work. However, they express frustration about the school environment not allowing them to do so effectively, leaving them in a difficult situation. This lack of understanding often leads to a blame game, with each party pointing fingers at the other. For example, some may argue that principals hinder collaboration among teachers and impede their academic work. Conversely, principals may complain that teachers are uncooperative and unwilling to put in the necessary effort. District officers may also share similar grievances about principals.
Research papers have shed light on this unfortunate situation faced by teachers. In one such paper by Ujjawal Banarjee (2018), titled "Exploring the role of empathy in the bureaucracy that administers Indian Schooling System in the context of an increasing role of private players," the author highlights the detrimental impact of bureaucracy on teachers. He wrote
“One of the most crucial reasons for this poor state of affairs is the fact that the bureaucracy has robbed teachers of their necessary agency. Teachers are the weakest rungs in the ladder of power and anyone can come and advise or even reprimand them. The thinking about programs has to be done by the higher ups while the teachers are expected to implement what has been decided as the appropriate course of action by someone else.”
To better understand this dynamic, I applied Max Weber's theory of bureaucracy. Bureaucracy, by its nature, seeks to exert control and limit autonomy, but it offers a sense of security in return. Conversely, autonomy brings with it a sense of insecurity. Teachers within the government system are treated as part of the bureaucratic machinery, hence their frustration stems from both how the system treats them and how they perceive themselves within it. Teachers desire autonomy and agency, yet they are reluctant to compromise the security provided by bureaucracy. Subordination and control are inherent characteristics of bureaucratic systems. As members of such systems, we often feel compelled to act as subordinates, complying with rules and norms. Meanwhile, our academic nature yearns for freedom and autonomy, leading to an internal struggle between our academic selves and our bureaucratic identities. This conflict manifests as mental unrest, disillusionment, and frustration.
While bureaucracy imposes control and order, it also offers significant job security. On the other hand, exercising autonomy often entails economic uncertainties. Many examples exist of brilliant poets, philosophers, and writers who have endured financial hardships. As individuals embedded within the bureaucratic chain, we enjoy job security and economic stability, which hold great value within our family structures. Our compromised autonomy is a consequence of the choices we have consciously made. We have opted for secure employment and financial well-being. Universities were once perceived as havens with less bureaucratic friction, but even they have become tightly bound by bureaucratic control.
In light of these observations, negotiation emerges as the only practical and wise course of action. The characteristics I described about bureaucracy are not limited to specific individuals; they reflect the inherent nature of bureaucracy, which operates similarly across the world. Wherever we go, bureaucracy seeks conformity and control, but it also offers career and financial security.
Recently, I have realised that knowledge holds the greatest authority, a concept echoed by Foucault as the ultimate form of power. However, the realm of knowledge has become tainted by individuals of mediocre competence occupying influential positions in universities and research institutions. Thankfully, knowledge exists in its own realm, transcending national boundaries. Internationally, peer-reviewed research articles and reputable publications hold tremendous value, providing a pathway for negotiating and navigating the bureaucratic landscape