Are Teachers Trusted?

For about half the days of the last 20 years, I have been trusted with other people’s children. I knew I would be when I decided to become a teacher. It’s an awesome responsibility and scary enough that I spend most of my time at work actively not thinking about it. I have taken large groups of children on field trips, where I am responsible for their safety. I’ve taught countless students who have allergies that could kill them. Every year, I am trained in how to administer a life-saving dose of epinephrine. I am the sole first responder should a student have a seizure in my room, which happened once. I am responsible for getting students onto the correct buses or to the pick-up area at the end of every day when parents call at the last minute with a change in transportation. Fail at this, and an eight-year-old can be dropped off at an empty house or I can create parental panic over a missing child.

I am also responsible for the future of the republic, or so I’ve been told. Economist Eric Hanushek believes that lackluster teaching in America’s schools is responsible for a “permanent recession” and that our low achievement on international tests prevents students from accessing good, high-paying jobs after graduation. If students haven’t learned to read by the time they leave my third-grade classroom, they are consigned to a future of unemployment, substance abuse, and incarceration. More pressingly, they could be held back, which comes with its own serious consequences, such as a higher likelihood of dropping out.

Last year, the idea of arming teachers to protect students (and themselves, I suppose) from school shooters briefly dominated the news. In May, Florida passed legislation allowing teachers to carry guns at school. And so, for a brief moment, when fear (okay, it was probably politics) was involved, even those who regularly bash our education system, its teachers, and the unions to which they belong were willing to trust educators to pack heat around their kids.

Related: So Now They Trust Teachers?

All of this means that I should feel like a trusted professional. Every teacher should. And indeed, most people do trust teachers. Only 10% of those polled by Gallup rate teachers as having low or very low honesty and professional ethics, putting teaching near the top of our most trusted occupations.

The paradox of teacher trust is that while teachers are trusted with other people’s children, the future of the republic, and with firearms, we’re not trusted with the color copier. And the mistrust doesn’t end with expensive ink cartridges. Teachers are subjected to a daily dose of indignities that send the clear message that they just can’t be trusted. Here are ten.

Teachers are subjected to a daily dose of indignities that send the clear message that they just can't be trusted. Click To Tweet

Copies

As mentioned, most teachers do not have access to a color copier. Most of those who do have access must first get permission. As for black and white copies, my previous district wasn’t too trusting here, either. Every teacher was assigned a username and password to type into the brand-new machines. This was a feature that could be disabled by the district. It wasn’t. Such a policy allowed the district to keep tabs on how many copies each teacher ran. And keep track they did. Every year, we’d get an email telling us our number and comparing it to the average. The district also compared buildings, the clear implication being that some people were making too many copies. How those in central office determined that was a mystery, since they regularly displayed an astonishing level of ignorance about what actually went on in classrooms and since they were responsible for the paper-heavy programs teachers were using.

Access to the Building

Some teachers are not trusted to enter their buildings at night, on weekends, or during breaks. For years, my wife was not given keys. When she was given keys (because teachers needed them to enter during regular school hours thanks to the fortress mentality schools have adopted in the wake of school shootings), she didn’t have the ability to disable the alarm system. Clever district leaders will explain such policies by telling teachers that they should leave school at school and protect themselves by staying away. But the truth is obvious: teachers aren’t trusted in the building alone. They might attempt to use the color copier.

Keys to High-Value Rooms

In my last district, the key to my classroom opened the key to every classroom. Except for two. To enter the computer lab (which was where things like extension cords, computer speakers, and ethernet cables were stored), I had to find the computer teacher, the principal, or the janitor. The same went for a tiny room where a technician repaired Chromebooks. By having different locks on these doors, the district sent the clear message that they suspected thieves among the teaching staff. And that janitors from a private company that paid its employees nine bucks an hour were more trustworthy than the professionals they’d hired to educate the community’s children.

The Laminator

I once worked at a building where teachers were not allowed to touch the laminator. It seems some teacher screwed the whole thing up one time by using it incorrectly, so instead of, say, training teachers on its correct use, the principal just banned teachers from even approaching it. To get something laminated, one had to submit the materials to a central location. Then, about a week later, you’d get your laminated stuff back. Provided the laminator didn’t break down. Or the laminator person (also called a laminator?) didn’t take a day or two off. Or she didn’t run out of laminating film. Anyway, I’ve never laminated again.

Air Conditioning

Here’s a new one for me. This summer, my district installed air conditioning in the newly renovated part of our building. They didn’t put in central air but instead installed hulking units in each classroom. Each unit has its own thermostat right there on the side. If you’re jealous, you should be. Until you learn that teachers aren’t allowed to actually control their own air conditioning units. The thermostats don’t do anything because the district has decided that teachers can’t be trusted to not turn their classrooms into walk-in freezers. They have instead given that power to one person sitting at central office. A sort of God of Air Conditioning. Teachers: trusted with the future, just not with the AC.

The God of Air Conditioning

Time

Teachers are not trusted to use their time effectively. For years, I worked in a building where parent-teacher conferences were scheduled from 5 – 8 pm. The idea was to take the hour between 4:00 and 5:00 for dinner or prep. But I didn’t want to stay until eight o’clock, so I started right after school (since there were a number of parents already there to pick up their kids) and didn’t offer parents any slots between 7:30 and 8:00. I left early, but I wasn’t supposed to. What I did wasn’t technically allowed because teachers can’t be trusted to use time how they see fit. Instead, we’re forced to remain in the building for the second half of half-days, required to remain on campus during our planning time, and need special permission from the boss if we need to leave 30 minutes early, instead of just arranging coverage of our classes on our own, like trusted professionals would. What’s especially galling is that teachers, more than any other professionals, regularly volunteer their personal time to do their job. We’ve already proven our collective professionalism and dedication, but districts consistently set policies that suggest they believe teachers would slack off if they weren’t forced to stay at work.

Professional Growth

Have you ever wondered why states require teachers to attend x number of hours of professional development each year, or force teachers to take x number of college credits every x amount of years in order to keep their certification, or why districts require preapproval of said college courses, or why principals do book studies, or why districts offer voluntary PD?

Because no one trusts teachers to keep learning on their own. This in spite of the fact that Dave Burgess has sold about a bazillion copies of Teach Like a Pirate, Twitter is overrun with educhats, and thousands of teachers willingly give up time during the summer to attend conferences.

Professional Judgment

Sure, teachers went to college to receive training for the job. Okay, the state certified them to teach. Yes, they’re forced to learn and keep growing professionally. Yeah, they probably know their students better than people who never interact with them. But that doesn’t mean their professional judgment should be trusted. It’s not enough to say that a student needs extra help. You must have The Data to prove it. It doesn’t matter if a student isn’t learning from the program teachers are required to use. Teachers must not deviate from the curriculum. Teachers who want to supplement must get permission because they can’t possibly know which programs are research-based. Fidelity to programs (often unproven ones), pacing guides, goals chosen at the district level, and forms to fill out so you can show a video are all evidence that your leaders don’t trust your professional judgment.

Lesson Plans

If you’re required to submit lesson plans, you’re not a trusted professional. There are only three reasons teachers are asked to submit lesson plans. The first, and only legitimate reason, is if a teacher is struggling. In an attempt to diagnose the problem, principals should ask to see a lesson plan to determine if the teacher knows how to structure an effective lesson. The second reason is for compliance purposes (to see whether teachers are sticking to a pacing guide (ick) or to make sure they’re actually teaching the standards). The third reason teachers are asked to submit lesson plans is because they work for micromanaging tools who don’t understand how pressed for time teachers already are and who think lesson plans tell them something about what actually goes on in classrooms. Principals have a supervisory role to play and they should trust and verify that teachers are doing their jobs. The way to do that is to walk into their classrooms and watch them teach, not give them busy work that makes it clear how little you trust them.

I have strong feelings on required lesson plans. You can read more here: How to Get Your Principal to Stop Requiring Lesson Plans

Our Words

I once had a principal who wanted a copy of every newsletter teachers sent home to parents. She said it was in case parents called with questions or concerns; if she had the newsletter, she could reference it during the phone call or parent visit. My suspicion was she just didn’t trust her teachers. Since most of us sent newsletters every Friday, there was no way she could read all the newsletters. By asking for a copy, she was making a preemptive strike against any criticism of her or the school’s policies. Knowing you had to submit your newsletter made you think twice before informing parents about administrative decisions they may have opposed. This is the same reason districts warn teachers off social media. It’s not that they’re afraid you’re going to make yourself look bad because you post pictures of your vacation to Cancun and parents might see it. It’s because you might tell parents that the thousands of dollars taxpayers just voted to spend on new Chromebooks was wasted because the district won’t hire people to fix the Chromebooks when they break or because you might share a screenshot of an email written from your boob of a Superintendent in which he states that teachers will be subject to disciplinary action if they wear their union t-shirts to the football game on Friday night.

Perhaps they’re right to not trust teachers to keep their mouths shut when it comes to policies that demoralize them or that harm the education of their students. Or perhaps they could trust that teachers know what they’re talking about. That their concerns are the community’s concerns. That by allowing them their voice they could benefit from word-of-mouth when they do things well. They might realize that by trusting teachers to speak up when things aren’t right, they’ll try harder to get things right in the first place and learn from their mistakes when they don’t, which will strengthen the organization and improve schools for everyone in them.

But until teachers are allowed to print their newsletters in color and not have to send copies to their principals, I’m not holding my breath.

Other examples of how teachers aren’t trusted:

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