The Importance of Self-Awareness
I want to begin this piece by disclaiming that I am not yet a teacher; I’m in the process of becoming one. I don’t want to discount my opinion too much, but I do want to be clear that I am writing from a position of relatively little experience, taking what I have learned in my education courses as well as my volunteering experiences and looking ahead to my future as an educator.
That said, one of the key concepts reinforced in many of those classes, and likewise what I have interdependently observed as a volunteer, is how our own experiences are not universal. Heck, they might not even be particularly common.
Different Ways of Viewing School
We as educators (and as humans in general) need to understand that the way we view school (and the world at large) is not necessarily going to match up with how some (or most, or even all) students view school. And I worry that this sometimes goes unnoticed, not out of malice, but simply because it is hard. It is hard to see the world in a different way, hard to understand why someone can’t see the things we see.
Some of the more obvious examples of this come in terms of differences in religion, race, gender, socioeconomics, etc. I personally believe those factors are pervasive in our society, and they absolutely impact not only how one sees the world, but also how the world sees them. It is important to not only be conscious of these factors, but to consider ways you can bridge the divide and have healthy conversations about them.
One Size Fits All?
Beverly Daniel Tatum is a well-known educator and author who writes at length about issues such as identity development and the like. She, and others, suggest it is not enough to be colorblind and try to treat every student exactly the same. If not every student sees the world the same, if not every student learns in the same way, why would we assume there is a one size fits all?
But it goes beyond these factors as well, into education more broadly. I would imagine that the majority of people who decide to enter the field of education did so because they themselves valued and enjoyed school. This may be particularly true for whatever subject or grade level they chose to teach (for me, that will be secondary social studies/history).
I wonder — and again this is coming mostly from my own fears and expectations of what teaching will be like for me — if this doesn’t lead to some issues when it comes to trying to engage and interact with students who may not show an interest in what you are teaching. Again, we loved this topic when we were in school, so why doesn’t this student feel the same way?
For the last several months I have spent a couple hours a week in a 7th grade class, doing some observing as well as some one-on-one support with students. Despite being in schools for the last 17 years or so, this is the first time I have seen a class from a vantage point other than “student.” And it is amazing what a difference that simple change in role can make in terms of perception…
I saw students not engaging in the material and wasting valuable time. At first it didn’t make much sense to me. You see, I was always someone who completed every assignment on time; I did all my homework right when I got home from school rather than putting it off until later. It was difficult for me to grasp at first.
I still can’t say I totally relate to their actions, but I at least learned to be thoughtful and inquisitive about why this might be happening for these students, why it didn’t happen for me, and what I might be able to do in my future as a teacher to try to get these types of students excited and invested in school.
I want to reiterate that I don’t believe this to necessarily be a conscious thought that all teachers have, and I certainly don’t mean to suggest that they are blaming students left and right for “not getting it.” I simply want to suggest that there are things going on in our subconscious mind that can impact how we behave, and how we perceive the world around us, and it is vital that we understand that. We should always be reflective in considering how our place in the world might be influencing us, as well as how that influence differs from that of our students.
Maybe this is something most teachers have already figured out. But teachers are human beings, and human beings have faults, and we put people in boxes, and we are susceptible to bias. I think even those teachers who do understand this could probably benefit from a gentle reminder. It is our job to adapt to students and provide them with the best educational experience possible, and I believe part of that is thinking through these kinds of problems.