I’m treated like I’m an adult

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In an email exchange with a friend, I ask about his kids, his new job, the usual catching up. His response appears in my inbox. I begin reading and catch my breath on one short paragraph. It’s about his new job, the first time in decades he isn’t in a classroom.

So different from teaching, as you  know. I’m treated as if I’m an adult – trusted – as if I’m an adult. And the work feels good. Have you seen the legislation I’m executing?

What’s that? I sit back in my chair and reread.

I’m treated as if I’m an adult – trusted – as if I’m an adult.

This is a teacher approaching 50 years old. His first teaching experience was with me when he was 22. He’s been in multiple schools, a variety of roles, worked as a trainer, presents at conferences, was once a finalist for national teacher of the year in his subject speciality. And he had to leave teaching for a bureaucratic job with the State in order to feel trusted? What is going on?

I wonder if those outside of schools know that trust, mostly the lack of it, is an issue shared by many in the teaching profession. Or at least the perception of not being trusted. You can bet feeling untrusted affects how your children are being educated. Learning from a teacher who is looking over their shoulder, who doesn’t feel fully in charge, who is on their heels, well, you should expect that the mood in the classroom is different. That instruction is affected. 

And certainly don’t expect much out-of-the-box creativity. A non-trusting environment tends to make us crawl into the box, not get out of it.

For those of us inside education, my colleague’s new sense of freedom (in a state bureaucracy, no less) in comparison to his previous experience as a school teacher may not be all that much of a surprise. Attendance is taken at faculty meetings, classroom observations often feel like oversight more than professional development, we have to submit lesson plans, schemes of work, documents that show alignments with standards. We live in a highly hierarchical environment, controlled by department heads and a number of layers up to the principal. We get assigned to bathroom duty, hallway duty, bus duty, we’re asked to chaperone dances, all with little choice. Often there is also little choice about what you are teaching and how you are teaching, depending on the curriculum and the philosophical bent of your school. All the while students are weighing in with surveys or other mechanisms, some that teachers see, some perhaps that they don’t. (I’ve heard of anonymous reporting of teachers in both academics and other areas). 

So no, teachers might not be too surprised that changing professions might be accompanied by a sudden feeling of freedom, self-direction, and trust. If you agree with me that teachers who are not experiencing a sense of freedom, self-direction, and trust may find it difficult to be effective in the classroom, we should perhaps also agree to do something about it. Even if the performance of untrusted teachers (or those feeling untrusted, there is little difference) in the classroom is not affected (but it is), anybody in a job feeling low trust is likely to look for something else to do. Those who can find a different way to earn a living will. And so we lose phenomenal teachers to other jobs. 

Last year, in fact, I read a book written by a teacher working in the same metropolitan area as the friend I was corresponding with. The author was very fired up about being a teacher. He worked with all sorts of kids with all sorts of issues. He took on those issues, he described how hard he worked, he sent a strong message of “buck up, everyone” to his readers.  I was inspired and worried. Was his full on approach sustainable?

His contact information was in the book. I emailed him. He wrote back with a short message that he was no longer teaching, but thanks for reading the book. Was it a trust issue? Was it just “regular” burnout? Can we afford to see these teachers become bureaucrats, programmers, real estate agents?

I am happy for my colleague personally.  I’m not happy that there is a better place for high quality teachers to be than in a classroom with kids. And I’m convinced we should be actively developing environments for teaching and learning that treats teachers as adults. Kudos to those of you who are.

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