Take pride in your power to change people’s lives

17th August 2018 at 00:00
As a teacher, you may not always be aware of your hold over others – but this is brought home when you yourself are made to feel powerless, writes Sarah Simons

The status of the teaching profession is a well-trodden topic. We’re no longer seen as guardians of knowledge, a highly ranked intellectual elite, learned statesmen of the parish. I don’t really care about the status of my job. But when it comes to power, that’s different. Power is important, and I’ve got shitloads.

I’m not rich, or beautiful, or in a job where my decisions affect the masses. The power I have comes from the freedom that education has given me. I’ll challenge authority that doesn’t meet my values. I’ll ask difficult questions and be a thorough pain in the arse if needs must. I have so much power that I only become aware of it on those rare moments when it’s removed.

On the first day of the summer holidays, my son fell off a hammock and broke his collarbone. (I know, bad timing.) He was rushed through A&E, as there was concern that the grapefruit-sized lump growing under his neck was a sign of something sinister. After hours of tests, it was deemed that surgery wasn’t necessary and he was sent home with a bucket of painkillers and a sling. Every medical professional we met that night was caring, efficient and highly professional, working under challenging circumstances. I had to stop myself imposing a giant hug of gratitude on every one of ’em.

As instructed, we returned to hospital two days later. After more treatment from more wonderful medics, we were ushered into the consultant’s office. He jabbed his finger at us and commanded: “Sit.” Talking to humans as though they are a disobedient spaniel is never a welcoming sign. He glanced at his notes, then, untroubled by constraints of courtesy, poked my son’s neck, demanding, “Does that hurt?”

On the one occasion my son answered “sort of”, the consultant barked: “It was a closed question. Yes or no?” My son glanced at me. I kept my trap shut.

Then it really kicked off. My son asked Dr Knobhead (as he’s known in our house) if it would still be OK to use his computer (note, he didn’t mention video games). We were then told that it was possible, but he would advise against it; instead, my son should be reading a book and tidying his room, not ignoring his mother and sitting at his computer all night, playing games.

We were stunned. So many assumptions were revealed within that short exchange: about my son, about me, about our relationship. But I kept my trap shut. We were in a vulnerable position and this man had knowledge we needed: the power to mend my boy.

We’ve all experienced someone who has exerted their power over us because they know what we don’t. When people use their knowledge to dominate rather than to contribute, it makes me wonder how secure they really feel in their own power.

As teachers, we are powerful beings because the nature of our work, our reason, is to be generous with knowledge. So let’s stop fretting about perception of status and wear our power with pride.

Sarah Simons works in colleges and adult community education in the East Midlands, and is the director of UKFEchat. She tweets @MrsSarahSimons

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