Un-Standardized Teaching: How Elementary School Teachers Define and Achieve “Success” in the Age of Standardization

This qualitative research study seeks to understand how “successful” elementary school teachers conceptualize and manage their work in the age of standardization. I analyzed the interview data collected from a convenience sample of ten elementary school teachers currently working at a California Distinguished School in Southern California. The qualitative semi-structured interviews were conducted in February of 2013. The state of California characterizes “successful” teachers as those who adhere to state mandates and whose students excel on the standardized tests. The teachers in this study believe a good teacher to be one who educates students holistically, serving their physical, cognitive and emotional needs. These conflicting concepts create tension for the teachers as they seek to find “success.” The teachers conceptualize their work by utilizing “good proxy parent,” “good educator” and “deprofessionalized employee” meaning frames. By defining the role of a “successful” teacher through these paradigms, these teachers are able to artfully and creatively negotiate the tensions and mitigate the perceived harm to the children in their classrooms. School districts might use this information to find more effective ways to help teachers achieve their definitions of “success.”