January 25, 2023
In this report, drawing on the spring 2022 American Instructional Resources Survey, the authors examine teachers' awareness of and responses to limitations on how they can address race- or gender-related topics in their instruction. Teachers experienced limitations that infringed on their instructional autonomy, which included their choice of curriculum materials and topics for classroom discussion. These limitations originated from a variety of sources, including state, school, and district leaders and family and community members, and encompassed a wide span of topics, including, but not limited to race- or gender-related topics. The multifaceted nature of these limitations highlights how teachers exist in an increasingly complex policy environment in which they must consider and weigh not only their own perspectives but also the perspectives of multiple stakeholders, along with numerous messages and directives from a variety of sources about what and how to teach. In this complex environment, the authors found that teachers' responses to restrictions on their classroom instruction ranged broadly from compliance with to resistance against these restrictions; teachers also engaged in numerous strategies to navigate the existence of these restrictions. Moreover, limitations placed on how teachers can address contentious topics may be leading to consequences for teachers' working conditions and for student learning. Teachers perceived that teaching students under these limitations has become more difficult and that these limitations make it more difficult to engage students in learning, support students' critical thinking skills, and develop students' ability to engage in perspective taking and empathy building.