Teacher Privilege: Whose Voices Are Missing?

Yesterday, my teaching partner, Paula, shared a brave, but important, post about her experiences as an Early Childhood Educator and about the divide that still sometimes exists between teachers and DECEs (Designated Early Childhood Educators). Her post, and the conversations that we’ve had around it, have inspired me to write a follow-up post of my own.

My post is one of stories. The first story takes me back many years ago now, when I was starting at a new school in a grade other than kindergarten. It was an interesting year to move schools, as we didn’t end the year with a PA Day, so I never had a chance to officially meet the staff before my arrival. I remember coming in and connecting with a few teachers in the staffroom. I’m not the best at small talk, and going through introductions is a challenge for me. The interesting thing though is that as a teacher, I never really had to do this. Everyone just kind of knew me as the “new teacher.” I quickly gained a voice in that staffroom if I wanted to have one, and was invited into conversations just by the fact that I was there.

As someone who embraces change, I’ve moved schools a couple of different times since then. I also had my first opportunity to teach with Paula. I’m finding that the older that I get, the more that I crave quiet during my nutrition break. I could probably count on one hand — maybe two — the number of times that I went into the staffroom at the last couple of schools where I taught. This wasn’t because the room wasn’t welcoming, but more because I was looking for a silent space to spend a few minutes of time. I do love hallway nooks, and often locate at least one for my working pleasure.

What’s had me really reflecting recently is that even though I rarely made it into the staffroom, everyone still knew me. When I did go, I was invited into conversations and asked questions. I felt as though I could speak up and that my voice was heard.

  • Did people know me because I was a “teacher?”
  • Did people know me because of connections through social media before we ever started working at the same school?
  • Or did people know me because it’s hard to ignore that person who’s sitting alone in the hallway at lunchtime? ๐Ÿ™‚

I’m not sure of the reason and/or combination of reasons. Thinking back about my teaching experiences at eight different schools, I have to wonder if there was ever a full-time teacher at any one of those schools who didn’t feel like part of the school community. Now what if instead, I have this same wonder about …

  • Early Childhood Educators?
  • Educational Assistants?
  • Supply teachers?
  • Secretaries?
  • Caretakers?
  • Support staff?
  • Parents?
  • Volunteers?
  • Principals and Vice Principals?

Is this natural feeling of inclusion the same for all of these individuals?

As another one of my stories, I remember a while ago now, when I was sitting in the staffroom at the end of my prep. The caretaker came by, and he saw me there. He sat down for a minute, and shared with me a conversation that he had with one of our students when he went in to empty the garbage in our classroom. The conversation told me a lot about the child’s social interactions, but also uncovered an interest that we could build on with him. When the caretaker left, another staff member who was there at the time was surprised by our interaction. This has me thinking about some “caring adult” conversations over the past couple of years.

Caring adults can be so many different people in the building. The connections that different adults can have with kids, and the insights that they can share about kids, are so incredibly valuable. Hearing about Paula’s experiences of the past, but also hearing the stories of different Early Childhood Educators on Twitter, I’m coming to wonder if teacher privilege exists. Are my opinions valued more by co-workers because I’m a teacher? Should they always hold as much value as they do? Today, I’m returning to this blog post comment by Kristi Keery-Bishop.

How might we amplify those voices that are not being heard? What new learning might there be as a result? I don’t always think that actions are intentional, but I do think that improvement is possible regardless. Know more. Do better. I’m committed to this. Who’s with me?


4 thoughts on “Teacher Privilege: Whose Voices Are Missing?

  1. I just finished my second year in kindy (two different schools) and to be honest, developing a professional relationship with my partner has been one of the hardest challenges for me. Itโ€™s the professional part that has me stumped! Both of the DECEs that I have worked with have been great people who I personally enjoy and would call friends. However, in the classroom we are partners and not friends spending g time together. I feel that the importance of the relationship between teacher and DECE was overlooked during the roll-out of the new Kindergarten program. To speak to your point about teacher privilege, I very much see it still exists. A couple years ago, a teacher at the school was looking g for the kindergarten teacher and couldnโ€™t find her. She said to the DECE, โ€œI guess I will have to settle for second-in-command.โ€ I think many of us need to see things in a hierarchy sort of way to make sense of it. Similar to the way some people feel the need to use labels to categorize someone. Just my thoughts anyway and will continue to work on building that professional relationship with my partner. Do you have any suggested readings in this area?

    • Thanks Laura for your openness here! You are making me think about hierarchies and labels: two other things that I think need to be reconsidered in many ways. Why do we rely on them? What might be stopping us from making a change? In the case of the teacher/DECE relationship, why is the assumption that the teacher is the first in command?

      When you mentioned your past experiences with your partners, Iโ€™m wondering about the professional conversations that you had together. How did you discuss developmentally appropriate practice? Documentation? Planning based on documentation? Students and student needs? Student interests? Parent and family involvement and engagement? The Kindergarten Program Document and expectations? Paula and I are friends now outside of the classroom, but our classroom talk is about pedagogy. We push each other to think differently based on questions around The Program Document and even The ELECT Document. We explore problems of practice together. We set professional goals together so that we can support each other in achieving them. Weโ€™ve even read and discussed the same professional books before to engage in more professional talk together. I wonder if these kinds of conversations around pedagogy would make a difference for you. What have you tried already and what else might be possible? Thoughts?


  2. I have noticed that overwhelmingly, when the relationship between kindergarten educators is referred to, it is the teacher position that is stated first.
    โ€œTeacher/DECE relationshipโ€.
    Maybe we start there? Why not โ€œDECE/teacherโ€?

    The language being used, implies greater importance to whichever comes first.

    • Thanks Lauren! This is so interesting. Itโ€™s not something I noticed before, but itโ€™s so true that this is always the case. I think that Iโ€™m going to have to work on making a flip. Now you have me wondering if just this little change could make a big difference.


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