aha moment, assumptions, being a teacher, memories, school staff, students

It Happened at a Meeting

Today I took notes at our staff meeting.  Yes, a highly unusual task for me as I just sit and listen most of the time.  But today was a day for note taking as we discussed hidden assumptions in life.  I have written about this before mainly on this post, but the discussion keeps pulling me back in as I continue to challenge myself.

To assume means to suppose to be the case, without proof and it is this last bit of the definition that really sparked my interest today.  When we assume in our classrooms, do we do it because it is easy?  Because of intellectual laziness?  Or is it some inane need to classify in order to navigate through life?

As teachers we often assume whether we can admit or not.  We assume perhaps that a child who rides a certain bus has a laundry list of issues that need correcting.  Or a child who comes from a wealthy neighborhood should be fine academically.  Perhaps we assume socioeconomic status based on a pair of worn out shoes, rather than stop to ask the child, who may in the end, just really like those shoes.  We provide snacks for the kids who live in rental properties, and extra time to do homework because their home-life may be tough, but how often do we ask our middle-class kids whether they are having difficult or whether food is sparse at their house?  So in this instance, we assume because we are used to it.

I didn’t start my job with these assumptions, in fact, I prided myself on how much of blank slate I was.  And yet, here they are now, fighting me every day.  We see our class list and images and connotations frequent our thoughts until we meet the kids and then (hopefully) realize how wrong we are.  We base our class lists for the coming year on even more assumptions about how a certain student may be do in a certain class based on the assumptions we make about that teacher.  Sometimes others correct us and sometimes the assumptions is given more life because others nod their head, already victims of the same cloaked inferences.

So why are assumptions bad?  As a victim of many, I can tell you they diminish you as a person unless you fight hard enough to break out of them.  Because I moved a lot as a child due to my mother being awarded Fullbright scholarships, I was assumed to be transient with everything that entails.  Because I was taught English at a very young age, and thus was the only 1st grader fluent in English, I was assumed to be gifted, which I am not.  Because I was raised by an incredible single parent, I was assumed to have “daddy” issues or be the victim of a lackluster childhood, when the opposite is true.  My mother’s scholarships means I learned what it means to be a global citizen.  Being fluent in English means that I can teach my class with a native accent, rather than the awful Danish one (Lars Ulrich anyone?), and being raised by the most passionate and inspiring of mother’s who later married her soulmate gave me a role-model that I will forever try to emulate both in life and in love.  In short, my “messed up life” on paper proved to be a fantastic journey.

As we pass our assumptions on in the hallways, meetings, or lounge conversations, we breathe new life into them.  When we have one more child that fits the bill of what we thought they would be like, then we pat ourselves on the back, and know that we were right to categorize them such in the first place.  Every year, as more students come our way, we strengthen our categories, our distinctions, and it becomes harder to see the truth, to wipe them all away.

Some will argue that there is nothing wrong with assuming certain things, and I agree that this is not a black and white discussion.  Yet something has to be done with the monologue constantly running in our heads.  When we do not speak our assumptions aloud, no one is there to refute them, and so they take on more “truthiness” until we don’t remember a time when we didn’t know this to be a fact.  We have to fight our assumptions before we make them truths, the future of our students are at stake.

being a teacher, communication, community, school staff

Know the Power of "Hello"

Good morning, hello, hi… all small words that when left hanging in the hallway can have tremendous effects.  The power of a greeting, something our parents teach us to always reciprocate, is massive.  It can shape our mood for the rest of the day if met by the right caliber of person or leave us wondering about ourselves if unanswered.   So simple yet so powerful.

Yet, in hallways across America, teachers are reporting feeling isolated and genuinely uncared for whether it be through their own actions or by simple mistakes conducted by others that perhaps were too busy or just preoccupied.  So weigh the power of hello, a greeting, an acknowledgement.  Think about it, greet others, take the time to acknowledge that they are in your building, in your presence.  Don’t be too busy, don’t rush by, don’t scowl or close yourself off.  Be the pebble that starts the wave of positivity rather than negativity. So say hello, mean it, perhaps even smile.  I am happy to see you today.

being a teacher, communication, community, new teacher, school staff

Why is Teaching a Lonely Job?

This past week as I have reflected upon personal conversations, emails and posts I have come across I had a sad realization; everywhere there are teachers who feel that no one wants them to succeed, that no one cares what they do, that no one stops to listen to them.  While I had hoped that these were merely regional perspectives and not something worldwide, I see now that teaching can be an incredibly lonely job.

Every teacher wants to be the best teacher they can be.  They start out with ideas, ideals, and aspirations, truly believing that every child can learn, achieve, be something incredible.  And yet, after perhaps not so gracious welcomes, or reserved hello’s, teachers learn their first lesson about teaching: don’t expect a red carpet welcome.  It is not that other teachers aren’t welcoming, the profession as a whole just seems to be a bit skeptical, naturally reserved when anything new enters our midsts whether it be a new idea, change, or a new person.

And what a sad lesson that is.  We are there to reach out to all students, to make them feel welcome, and we spend precious class time building community with our students and then forget the community that needs to be re-formed every time someone new enters our schools.

I discussed this with my mother, who is a college professor.  She agreed with me that this is not a localized phenomenon but something that she has encountered on various levels as well.  Her take was that it often can be attributed to jealousy, busyness, competitiveness or a combination of any of those.  I hate to say she is right but I do think from personal experience that there is room for improvement in how we treat each other face to face.  I think of how in my online PLN whenever there is a success, people cheer and ask more questions.  Now I wonder whether this happens as much in real life as we would  like to think it does.  I certainly have days where I feel as if no one hardly cares and then there are days when I feel accepted and welcomed.

So I open it up for debate.  Are teachers friendly to each other or could we improve on this?  Why can teaching feel as if it is you against the world with few people cheering you on?  Do we create this situation or is a just a cutthroat profession where people fend for themselves, constantly wary of the new person?