393. Authority

I wrote, in my last article, that I do not volunteer to be an authority figure. I know what I meant when I wrote that, but it’s not quite that simple; I feel the need to clarify the statement a little. I don’t mean that the children now have a new forty-eight year old playmate, and that the teachers have a large child they have to discipline, although both of those statements have little grains of truth to them. The freedom retirement gives me does occasionally get me to forget some of the rules, talking to a child when I’m supposed to be listening to the teacher’s directions. But not very often.
Any adult who works in a school is bound to be somewhat of an authority figure for children. Children often look up to adults for help, direction, limit- setting, modelling, and more. I haven’t really shed the authority figure role; I haven’t become a child again, and I don’t want to. When a child is having trouble, and doesn’t think another child will be able to help, it’s good to have an adult nearby.
So yes, I actually am an authority figure, and I’ll continue to be one throughout my life. I’m even an authority figure to some teachers; like children, new teachers do occasionally seek the help of people who have already been there. Having come of age in the sixties, I missed some of the positive connotations of the phrase “authority figure;” I was too busy rebelling.
What I meant to say was that in school, I’m not in a position to tell children what they have to do. Some children look to me for permission, and I tell them to ask a teacher. “But you ARE a teacher,” they say. While they do have a point, I’m not THE teacher, and I don’t want to give children permission that THE teacher doesn’t want given. I don’t have that kind of authority.
And when a child misbehaves, I don’t have my whole repertoire of responses available. I can tell the child how that misbehavior makes me feel, and I can try a few other approaches, but I can’t make a child stay in from recess. I can’t call the child’s parents in for a conference or write anything on a report card. That’s for THE teacher to do. That part of the authority role has always been the most
difficult for me; it took a kind of energy I never had enough of, and I have less of it now.
I’m thankful not to be playing that part of the role any more, but at least let me admit to you and myself that I am an authority figure. I played the role throughout my teaching career, but as I did, I never quite believed myself, so children never quite believed me, although most believed me more than I believed myself. That sometimes made teaching harder, though I did become friends with a lot of people who would only have been my pupils if I’d more fully integrated the role into my personality. But I’m going to stop trying to convince myself or anyone else that I’m not an authority figure.

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