All my life I’ve trusted people easily. I may not trust every news article I read, but I do have faith in people. My philosophy has always been “trust people until they give you reason not to.”
A few years ago, a friend told me that I trusted too easily. She gave me the following advice: “Before you trust anyone make sure they pass the ‘test of time.'” I asked her exactly how long that test of time actually was. One year, two years, ten…?
She said, “About five years.”
This seems crazy to me. Do I mark the date next to a person’s name and at the five year anniversary point say, “Congratulations. You passed and now I trust you.” And how does this account for those people who one knows for decades before they suddenly break your trust? Once people pass the “test of time” can you be sure they’ll never change? People are human — emotional, unpredictable. And the truth is, they can disappoint you at any point in your relationship – even after years of solid loyalty.
I firmly believe that this lack of trust is a crisis in education. We don’t confide in teachers to do their job the way they should, so we give them boring, shallow textbooks to follow. We make them fill out endless paperwork to prove that they’re actually working (because doesn’t teaching just look like a walk in the park)? We make their students take time-consuming standardized tests to prove that teachers are effective in the classroom. But clipping teachers’ creative wings so that they all teach exactly the same thing in the same robotic way, certainly does nothing to improve education.
We can trust that most teachers will do their best and that with training they can to do better. We can expect them to be professionals, to care about their students and to work long, extra hours to meet their needs. And if they don’t, through consistent observation and follow-up it will be noticeable, and these issues can be addressed. Rather than spending precious resources on standardized tests, we should spend that money on coordinators and teaching coaches who support and train teachers.
The same goes for students. All too often I hear, “If you don’t give them a grade on their homework, they won’t do it.” When students have trouble with an assignment: “They’re just lazy.” But when we change that mindset, giving students autonomy over their own learning, we see them rise to the challenge. We give them an open-ended project and allow them to show their learning their own way and they do amazing things. When we provide students with learning goals and allow them to self-assess to see where they’re at, they put in a great deal more effort than when they’re simply working for a grade. When we give students choice and allow them to follow their interests, most of them become motivated to learn.
Of course, there’s always one or two exceptions. And that’s okay – we can identify those students and work with them. But do we have to put all of our students in straitjackets just so a few unmotivated ones will do what we want? In my experience, no matter how rigid we are, some students still won’t do their homework. Once we’ve identified those students who don’t work no matter what we do, we can begin to figure out what’s holding them back. Learning disabilities? Get them extra help. Organizational issues? Teach them how to use organizational tools and how to prioritize. Emotional issues? Get them psychological help. Don’t understand the material? Give them support and teach them how to help themselves. Again, we have to trust that students want to learn and give them the tools to be able to do it.
Education needs to stop making teachers and students “pass the test of time.” We need to trust that our teachers are professionals who truly care. We need to trust that our students will take up the challenge and grow to be the best they can be, given the right environment and the support they need.
Yes, trusted people can disappoint us. But that’s the risk we take. If we don’t take risks, we cannot grow. If we never trust, we cannot live.