Before Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) gets to the message, let’s first think about the expiring, federal $600 per week unemployment benefit. One political party is adamant that the benefit must expire; the reason given? Unemployed persons are receiving more from the benefit than they earned in their paycheck.

Skipping the moral judgment about people being lazy, an arguable proposition because most people prefer to work–Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, human beings want to belong and have feelings of accomplishment–that $600 a week works out to $30,000 a year or $15 per hour for a standard work year.

You read that correctly. The expiring federal benefit simply extended help at the minimum wage target. Too much, according to one political party, the same one that fights to keep the minimum at a level about half that, a level that guarantees that people will live in poverty.

But hey, let’s blame public education for that. It’s their job to address the inequities of society. While persons like Betsy Devos condemn public schools for teaching like they have for the last 100 years, it is her side that promotes the American mythology of the last 100 years that all it takes is a good education and hard work and anyone can become a billionaire.

Generational wealth, inheritance, the advantage of connections–none of that matters. People of color can add their history of systemic barriers to this mythology of hard work.

It’s a betrayal of trust. We trusted in America, we trusted in the myth, but it’s not true. The politics in Washington, D.C. that is preventing our government from organizing and leading an effective response is a betrayal of our trust that they would serve us and help us.

That’s the long lead-in to the topic at hand.

Trust in the Classroom

Classroom teachers know the importance of trust. As each new school year begins, we face the children after they’ve entered the room and found a seat, maybe the one we chose for them, maybe the one we will let them choose for themselves. From that moment forward, we build the classroom environment. We build the community of learning that we want to foster throughout the year. We work to earn the trust of the students, who are coming from varied experiences and histories and diverse circumstances.

Until we gain that trust, learning will not start. This is the most crucial thing a teacher does to begin every school year.

It’s not different from any other enterprise. This is as true in a manufacturing plant, a corporate boardroom, a navy ship, or a farm. Nothing productive begins until trust is established.

It is also true of educational systems. If they are to be effective, they must gain the trust of the teachers and staff who work in them. That’s a natural thing to happen. Adults working in schools help to nurture the potential in children; there is always optimism and positivity of how the young sprouts will blossom into confident, young adults ready to move into the world. That optimism and positivity abounds in the job environment. Teachers, by their nature, trust their administrators and the district that manages them.

It takes a lot to break that trust, but it can happen. A pandemic, a failure to honor promises made, a casual disregard for the risk to health, life, and family members … that will break the trust.

Developing a plan for providing education without consulting or involving the teachers who will be the ones that make it happen (or not), that will break the trust.

Telling the public that the school system will provide protection, desk shields for example, and then limiting that to certain grade levels, an action that leaves the most vulnerable age at the greatest risk for spreading the disease, that will break the trust. When the spin and the reality differ, trust is broken.

It’s why teachers have held rallies. It’s why teachers and others have spoken at board meetings. The trust is broken. Has anyone realized it? Has anyone bothered to validate the very real feelings of those thrust into danger?

Emails to reassure teachers and staff will be ineffective. There is a deeper problem; the trust between school-based personnel and those who hold the reins of power is broken. Until that is re-established, words like ‘challenge accepted’ and ‘I’ll be in the schools, too’ will be ineffective.

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