While there are times at work when I feel completely useless (e.g., on field trips and during assemblies), when I am busy and productive I’m finding that my co-workers, superiors, students, and students’ parents appreciate me, value my opinions, seek my professional advice as an educator, and trust me to make decisions about my teaching, planning, and class management. This is not to say that I haven’t felt appreciated in the past. I think that my co-workers at Dahl and I regarded each other as professional educators and genuinely respected one another’s ideas, thoughts, and opinions; but I am feeling a very different, more consistent and ubiquitous respect. Of course, as I write that I have to qualify it with the admission that many students here are a tad on the spoiled brat end of the spectrum, but the majority show me respect and appreciate what I teach them.
The administration and the heads of department seem, from my initial experiences, to trust that we teachers know what we’re doing. I think that my previous principal not only thought that I had no idea what I was doing, but also believed that I didn’t actually want to improve…or that I couldn’t. Or something (I’m still not quite sure). I am happy to say that I’m certain she was the only one who lacked so much faith in me. Thank the universe I had so many co-workers, friends, and mentors to remind me that I didn’t suck and that I would continue to grow as a not-sucky professional educator. Here in Thailand, teaching at a school where students’ parents pay good money to send them, we teachers are not continually bombarded by the sorts of demands and high stakes that I was used to in San Jose. We were hired to do a job, we’re trusted to do well at our job, and the assumption is that if we are qualified to teach and that we were hired in the first place, we deserve respect.
Some wonderful evidence of this respect that I have felt has come in the form of brainstorming ideas for solving problems like bullying, introducing a behavior management plan idea to teachers who are struggling to get kids to sit still or pay attention or stay organized, and sharing teaching ideas and strategies. I love that I have two years of teaching under my belt and that my fabulous mentors have taught me so much that I can now pass on to other teachers. I love that there are teachers interested in teaching the students here about modern-day slavery and the importance of buying Fair Trade. I love that the 4th-6th grade classes will all eventually have three posters each: one to describe how their class will RESPECT one another and themselves; one with ideas for how to MAKE THE CLASSROOM A PLACE OF LEARNING; and one to highlight ways in which students might TAKE RISKS. (Thanks, G-ma and Ma.) I love that one of my more disorganized students grades himself on how well he’s doing each class period with unpacking his things, turning in work, and cleaning up after himself. Five more students will begin a self-evaluation program tomorrow that I created for them. It’s so ridiculously fulfilling to see a problem, have an idea for how to address it, put that solution into action, and see real results. I have the support of others and a boatload of time to thank for the freedom to be an effective teacher. I’m far from perfect. I have a lot to learn. I have an entire career ahead of me. But I feel fortunate to finally have the opportunity to grow, develop, ask questions, make mistakes, share ideas, and even see successes…without fear of harsh criticism or the fear of being “caught” doing something that is good for my students. (I was once “caught” doing a literacy-based art project with 2nd graders in San Jose. Didn’t I know that what these kids need is phonics instruction from the state-adopted curriculum, and that art is a waste of time? And that if the scary third-party agency keeping an eye on our district had seen my egregious breaking of the rules that my school – and my job – would be at risk?)
Teachers should not have to come to Southeast Asia to feel good about their jobs. I know there are some great schools in the States where teachers are invited to develop as professionals and who are viewed as intelligent, hardworking, and deserving of respect, but I fear that that might not be the norm. I believe that Americans need to invest in public education (read: pay some frickin’ taxes) and figure out a way to give teachers the time, space, and mentorship that they need to be effective. This is a good article, by the way.
Anyway, I’m happy. But I really wish that teachers everywhere were happy too. Much love and respect to my fellow educators here in Thailand, in the U.S., and in Canada.