When imagining myself as a primary teacher (as I am training to become), my main aim is to create in the classroom an environment where children and adults are treated as fellow people. This might sound obvious, but in fact I anticipate this being my main challenge.
In most classrooms, children treated by the adults as anything but people. They are subjects who have to learn ‘respect’ – a subservience to the teacher’s absolute rule. They are soldiers who line up in a straight line and march around the school in uniform, protected from the risks of free-thinking or originality. They are machines to which data must be inputted each day to ensure ‘achievement’ and ‘results’. They are either ‘Cute’ whose gazes fill the teacher with feelings of warmth and security, making them feel loved and needed, or else they are the Enemy who must be shown to have met their match in their teacher.
Likewise as the children go up the school, adults are increasingly seen as Other. They are to be impressed, hated, loved, sought, avoided or admired. You can like an adult, but you can’t be friends with an adult. Adults are only friends with adults, and children with children, because adults and children are different. Adults know everything; they have no emotions; they don’t play they only talk; they always do the Right Thing; they never make mistakes. Children can say anything to their peers, but to Adults, words are censored. Adults are powerful – they can determine your worth as a person, and then welcome or reject you as they deem appropriate. The teacher can be Guardian; Ruler; Sargent; Data Inputter; Judge; Enemy; or even Parent – a figurehead or position, but rarely a person – an individual who like themselves has their own personality, emotions, hobbies and desires.
Of course, adults do play when they get together – staff parties are proof of that. And they do have emotions – just go into the staffroom during lunch hour. They don’t know everything; they don’t always do the Right Thing (or even know what the Right Thing is/ if it even exists), and they do most definitely make mistakes. So why the acting?
When I am amongst my ‘peers’, I am a mixture of childishness and adult-ness. As I have grown up, I have grown in knowledge; in ability to understand, express and regulate my emotions; in ability to assess a situation and make a decision; in ability to solve problems, and so on. However these abilities are in addition to and not in replacement of my love of having fun; of discovering and imagining; of experiencing different sensations with my body; of sharing, laughing and working together with my friends; of asking questions; of doing activities that stretch my limitations and push boundaries; of exploring and expressing my personality; and so on. As an adult, I am not inherently different to the children.
But when I am with children in role of Teacher, I am an actor playing a role. I remember what teachers were like when I was at school, I observe how the other teachers are acting, and so I do the same. Most of the ‘childish’ parts of my personality that are similar to those of children are covered up and hidden, and any part of me that is different from the children, that is ‘grown up’, is given dominance. And so I act just as both the children expect me to – as Other.
But it is exhausting keeping up this façade. Why am I more ‘childish’ when I am not around children? I can understand becoming Guardian or in loco parentis, but why am I also meant to take on roles of Ruler; Sargent; Data Inputter; Judge; Enemy? At the moment, children are growing up telling stories of ‘When I grow up I’m going to be a…’ waiting for the moment when they turn from a caterpillar into a butterfly – from themselves, a child, into something totally different – an ‘adult’. That is until they reach the age of adulthood, and have a devastating discovery that ‘this is all there is – I will always just be me’. Aged 24 I still find myself talking about ‘the Adults’, meaning those who are different to me – those who are older than me who I can like or admire but can’t be ‘friends’ with – those with whom I have to censor my words. Wouldn’t it be more worthwhile to teach children to accept themselves and develop as they are, because they’re going to be stuck with themselves for life – instead of modelling some false transformation, which we currently seem to be doing? Isn’t society divided enough as it is?
I want to treat children as fellow people. “Come with me!” I want to say to them, “I want to find out all about this with you. Let’s explore and discover. Let’s share. Let’s learn, push boundaries and experience. Let’s grow together. Let’s create a classroom that is beautiful, so that we are happy to come in in the morning. Let’s talk and express. I know how you feel – I feel that too. We’re all different, so let’s work together. I respect you.”