Teachers stand out amongst civil servants by virtue of their embedded position within governed communities, their moral authority within those communities, and the relative autonomy of their work. This paper investigates the political position of teachers in Algeria during the War of Independence from France (1954-62). Although teachers were agents of the French state, and active in facilitating French governance in Algeria, they were regarded with deep suspicion by the French security services, and subjected to a sustained surveillance and repression campaign from the very first months of the war. Teachers were caught in a no-man’s land between the French State, which employed them, and the nascent Algerian nation, whose children they cared for in the classroom.

Based on oral history interviews with former teachers, the study of recently declassified public archives in France and Algeria, and a critical engagement with educational research on teachers working in disenfranchised communities, this paper investigates the difficult, and often dangerous, position teachers found themselves in as a result of the war. We examine the routine military incursions into schools by the French army, arrests and assaults of teachers, and how teachers sought to balance their duties of service to education with their political resistance to colonialism. However, we also recognise the heterogeneity of the teaching corps, and the relevance of this factor regarding relations between teachers and members of the armed forces. The data collected for this study indicates strong disparities in the campaign against teachers, depending on region, the teacher’s ethnicity, and on the type of school they worked in. Finally, we use this research as a case study to discuss the tensions which can arise between the right and the left hands of state within a situation of armed conflict.

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