'Teachers are grown-ups, not children – and schools would be a better place if everybody acted like it'

Pay attention, school leaders: if you want a team of trusted professionals who feel valued, encouraged and, well, adult, then start treating them like it, writes one teacher-blogger


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OK, here it is: something that has niggled since I entered the weird and wonderful world of education as an adult. Keywords, right there. I am an adult, not a child. Teachers are grown-ups, not children – and schools would be a better place if everybody acted like it.

My first real experience of what I shall formally term "infantilisation" was when I was on my teacher training course, at university. We were in a session about e-safety and the dangers of social media, and one of the points the lecturer made was about changing your name to protect yourself professionally. Those of us who were using technology for our note-taking immediately took his advice and, there and then, proceeded to change our names. A moment later, we were rounded upon by the same lecturer, for being on Facebook during a university lecture.  

I have now worked in three different schools and been on numerous training courses, and I see that this is not only the experience of trainee teachers but also that of school staff at all levels – and is an epidemic.

Managers bringing staff into their office to "tell them off" about having a cup of tea without a lid, staff being asked to stay in at playtime with their class for talking in assembly, teachers running staff meetings as if they were lessons…the list goes on.

Teachers undervalued

As you may be able to tell from my opening statement, my background is not education. When I arrived as a trainee teacher, I couldn’t believe how constrained and directed everyone’s timetables were, and that leaders were able to comment on where you happened to be during your PPA time. Apparently, going to buy a sandwich is an absolute no-no during non-contact hours, even if you happen to be hungry. What amazes me most is that teachers generally arrive at work way before and leave well after their official "working hours", so it’s a real blow below the belt that the true, paid-for hours are militantly observed. 

And the result of the problem? Undervalued staff who don’t feel trusted and – according to well-cited research – are less likely to stick to the rules or be willing to follow such tight observation. According to much research (see more here) the best performing teams are those where adult-to-adult interactions are the norm, as opposed to parent-to-child. The theory, which I have seen in action over and over, is that if someone speaks to you as if they were your parent, you are likely to react as a child would, and vice versa.

I know from experience that my natural reaction when someone speaks to me like a child is to push the boundaries, or at least push out my bottom lip. I am not the responsible, mature professional that I am most of the time. 

So leaders, politicians, managers at all levels, pay attention: if you want a team of trusted professionals who feel valued, encouraged and, well, adult, start treating them like it. 

The writer is a primary teacher in the East Midlands who blogs as Blue Sky Teacher here

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