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Volume 16, Number 4
July/August 2000

Innovative Teachers Hindered by the "Green-Eyed Monster"


As an elementary schoolteacher in suburban Boston, Michelle Jacobson talked enthusiastically to individual colleagues during lunch breaks about her students' successful electronic slide show creations and about how such innovative technology had invigorated the learning of her 1st- and 2nd-grade students. But she knew better than to talk that way to a group of teachers. She had heard other colleagues be criticized for such "showing off" and, even without bragging, felt shunned herself by some teachers for introducing new practices into the classroom.

While studying primary schoolteachers who use innovative technologies for my doctoral dissertation, I was struck by an unexpected finding: pioneers like Michelle sometimes downplay their expertise or novel teaching strategies rather than risk evoking jealousy from their peers. In other words, they go underground. In the typical "all for one, one for all" elementary school culture, drawing too much attention to oneself is seen as showing off and invites a hostile response. It can also contribute to a growing uneasiness among traditional teachers that their hard-won teaching style is rapidly becoming obsolete—and so are they. This highlights a distressing paradox: although most teachers support student achievement, they are often ambivalent about, or even hostile toward, the success of their peers.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.


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