A little dialog between the grad students

So the question was:

“Hinchey (p. 4) forwards that it’s essential for teachers to consciously and critically examine our assumptions (about school, society at large, students, teachers, teaching, learning, etc, etc) because our assumptions impact our actions and have consequences that extend far beyond our individual contexts. How do you respond to these ideas? In what ways do your assumptions frame your perspectives on teaching, learning, and students?”

and one of my classmates, Amanda, wrote this:

One of the main qualities a teacher must have is to be able to not make assumptions at first sight. However, I do believe it is easier said than done. Not only should teachers not have assumptions about society and students, but also the schools as a whole.

The general public is definitely one that makes assumptions on schools. Often times I will get asked if I work at a “good” school. I always ask, what does that mean? What is a good school? Nine times out of ten they are looking for how many students, income level, and race. I know I probably opened a can of worms, but society does judge schools based on race. As a teacher, believing in your school is half the battle. If I thought the school was not a “good” school I would have a hard time teaching there. That means that I do not believe in my students or my colleagues.

Another thing that really bothers me is the fact that teachers complain. I never understood why this happens, but it happens in every school. Teachers complain about all the things that are wrong in the school. I believe I work in a great school where things are run really well. However, day in and day out I here teachers complain about this and that. They also have these stereotypes of administrators and who they are as people. If I took some of the things I heard during the day and took them home to my husband, he would think I work in an awful school. So just imagine if a parent hears theses teacher at school. Or what if a student over hears a conversation and brings it home to their parents. This is how the society gets stereotypes of the school. They often do not hear all the good that is going on, they constantly hear the bad.

One of my biggest pet peeves is the discussing I have with teachers about other students. From semester to semester and year to year, I am constantly avoiding those teachers that tell you about all the bad students that you have on your roster. I think one of the greatest things about teaching is getting to know your students and their individual personalities. If the teacher next door tells me that one of my students is a trouble maker, it is highly unlikely for me to ignore the fact that I heard that. Talking about students between teachers become stereotyping. Assuming a student is a behavior issue or isn’t very smart is hard to take off the brain. Maybe that student was behavior problem in the other teacher’s class, but that doesn’t mean that he/she has to be a behavior problem with me. I like to find the different personalities of my students and not have hear them from someone else. I believe that assumptions impact our actions towards students. As much as we say we can ignore them, if a student has a reputation, I would rather not know about it.

And as I have been often in this current masters program, I was moved to respond, as I did thus:

Amanda, your description totally resonated with my experience in teacher’s lounges and sub-par schools. From teaching in and knowing teachers who still teach in the so-called “bad” schools (in Chicago), I can say that the kids do catch the ethos of the place. It’s wrong, because you can see the kids internalize the message that’s not far from a teacher of administrator’s mind: “these kids are losers,” or “there’s no hope for these dopes,” etc. It’s an unhealthy culture of negativity in those places that is as hard to correct as mildew in the drywall.

My pet peeve is also labeling of growing humans. I want to scream when an influential adult slaps a label on a still-developing child, “Hey! wait till s/he’s 30 first!” Barring special circumstances, a label at anytime prior to a child’s maturity is criminal in my book. It is an unfair imposition of the stereotypes I bring into the situation, and not a real encounter with the student and his/her learning.

Finally, I have a bit of understanding for the bad-talking teacher. I think most of the time this is an oppressed brother or sister teacher who has been pushed a little too far by institutional injustices, and were we as unfortuanate, we might be neg-heads, too. Plus, aren’t teachers paid to be critics? Isn’t the 20th c. educator a yes-no/right-wrong machine? It might be an occupational hazard.

Of course, there are certainly those cases (we called them “burn-outs”) of teachers who are dysfunctional as well as disparaging in their words for other people in the building. Not much can be done for them, I think, but mental health professionals. This is that awful teacher you describe, Amanda, who labels kids because of their family or race or reputation, who refuses to see the human beings he has in his care each day. That guy should be out of the classroom.

photo courtesy of flickr.com creative commons

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