Monday, July 9, 2012

Is the Teacher Always Right?

Think about all the experiences you have had in life, including when you were a child, all the way up to where you are now.  These experiences have had a huge impact on who you are today and have certainly aided in developing your perspective on situations.

Now, think about a very diverse classroom, fantastically mixed with a variety of races, cultures, genders, learning styles, ability levels, etc.  The odds that all of the students have had the same experiences and share the same perspectives as their teacher are low.   So, whose perspective generally influences what happens in the classroom the most?  The teacher's perspective of course.  Whose perspective is typically seen as the "right" perspective?  Yep, the teacher's!

It shouldn't be this way, though.  When a teacher walks into the classroom with her own values, beliefs, and perspectives, she should be willing to acknowledge that her students are also walking into the room with their own values, beliefs, and perspectives.  Just because we are the adults in the room doesn't mean our ways are the only right ways.  We need to take the time to listen to students and understand why they make the choices they make, especially in social situations.  Then, most importantly, we need to be extremely thoughtful about how we address situations, ensuring we don't imply that a student's beliefs, values, or practices are "wrong."  Instead we need to send the message that things are just different at school...not "right." 

Clearly, if a student is throwing chairs across the hallway while yelling profanities, they're wrong!   (Yes, that was one of my experiences last year with an emotionally disturbed student.)  BUT, we need to be aware that something is causing that behavior, and we need to work on getting to the root of that.

I'm talking more about everyday issues we may encounter!  For example, I had a student who came into school one morning wearing knee-high, red, leather boots, with a 6-inch heal on them!  My immediate response, which I fortunately kept to myself, was What in the world is she thinking?!  Those shoes don't belong on a child, and certainly don't fall under our "safe shoe" description in the district dress code!  They're ridiculous!  I may have had a few other thoughts about where I felt one would typically see those boots, but I'll just keep those to myself here, too!   Instead of saying anything to her, I just took a minute to think about the best way of handling the situation.  I knew this little girl well and knew she could become easily offended if I said the wrong thing.

After about 20 minutes, I walked over to my student and said, "Sweetie, your boots are so pretty."  She said, "I was wondering if you liked them!  They are my grandma's favorite boots.  Aren't they beautiful?"  I explained to her that I did think they were very beautiful (I had to watch out for lightning to strike!), and that I was so disappointed that the boots didn't fit in with the shoes we were allowed to wear at school to keep us safe.  She and I talked about how those heals would make it hard to walk up and down the stairs, and how painful it would be to crash down those steps.  Do you know what she told me next?   She said, "I knew I wouldn't be able to wear them, so I brought my tennis shoes in my backpack, but I really wanted to show them to you."

Now, think about how that little girl would have felt if I went with my gut reaction and shared my perspective on those boots.  What were you thinking wearing those boots, Savannah?  No 9-year old child should be wearing boots like that!  They are soooooooooo inappropriate!  You need to call home and get someone to bring you new shoes.  

Did I think those boots were beautiful?  Yeah, yeah I told her a little white lie, but it was for a good cause!  However, "Savannah" thought those boots were beautiful, and she wanted to show ME how beautiful they were.  If I would have reacted so negatively to her wearing those boots, I would have not only insulted her, but I would have also insulted her grandma who owned the boots!  This little girl was already a handful for any adult who didn't have some kind of relationship with her.  Can you imagine how I would have harmed our relationship if I had reacted based on only considering my perspective?

Often times, students have to change their normal behaviors once they get to school to assimilate.  They have to talk quieter, they have to keep their hands to themselves, they have to change the way they talk, they have to dress differently, they have to stay still in their seat.  "Savannah" likely wore those boots at home, and probably wore them proudly!  However, she realized she couldn't do the same thing at school, which is why she brought her tennis shoes.  We have to remember that the students' norms aren't necessarily "wrong" and the school's/teacher's norms aren't necessarily "right."  It just means they're different, and every teacher should consider this when working with students.

This is just one example; however, all day long teachers make decisions based on what they think is best, according to their own beliefs and perspectives.  This is especially evident when dealing with student behavior.

I'm simply suggesting teachers take the time to think about why a student may make certain behavioral choices and be especially thoughtful about the words used to address those issues.

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