Can we trust teachers?

Learning how to trust begins in childhood with our parents.

As teachers we are wise to this – that a child’s relationship with a teacher is fundamental to the way they will learn how to trust others.

Trusting a profession also begins with trust in real people and even trust in a single, significant person.

But generic attitudes to trust are not very helpful. We might be happy to trust a teacher to teach us mathematics effectively but not necessarily trust the same person to drive the school minibus if their driving skills are not up to much.

The public – and perhaps parents in particular – don’t form general attitudes to distrust either. Especially when there is a single aberration in a trusting relationship.

If you are convicted of a single driving offence, even a relatively serious one such as speeding or drink-driving, it doesn’t mean that people won’t trust you as a teacher anymore.

Thankfully we live in the kind of society were most people are relatively tolerant and forgiving.

But if the loss of trust was due to a ban resulting from speeding or drink-driving in the school minibus with children inside it, even that single aberration might be critically relevant and serious enough to destroy trust catastrophically.

In recent years some politicians and commentators have made much out of the view that trust is obsolete in professional life. Some have argued it undermines accountability. Yet how can there be any accountability at all without trust?

Being accountable in ways that are stupid, patronising and crass is corrosive to trust – that’s a lesson teachers have learned to their considerable cost in the last decade. Serious accountability is undermined when teachers are held to account by for example, systems of assessment that result in perverse incentives or are based on bogus numbers.

I think teachers should be held to account for serious judgements about quality, rather than relative comparisons of success.

Why do you think you should be trusted?

This blog was influenced by listening to the British philosopher and academic Onora O’Neill give the BBC Reith lecture in 2002

Alan Newland worked as a teacher, teacher-trainer and headteacher in London for over 20 years and then for a decade with the DfE and the GTC. He now lectures on teaching and runs the award-winning social media network newteacherstalk.  You can follow him on Twitter at @newteacherstalk and book him for a talk. His book “Working in Teaching” (Crimson Publishing) was published in March 2014.


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