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Is the Teacher Always Right?
Think about all the experiences you’ve had in life since you were young, until you are where you are now. These experiences have had a huge impact on who you are today and have certainly helped develop your perspective on situations.
Now, think about a very diverse classroom, with different races, cultures, genders, learning styles, ability levels, etc. are extraordinarily mixed. All students have had similar experiences and their teachers share similar perspectives. At a minimum, whose perspective generally influences what happens in the classroom? A teacher’s perspective of course. Whose approach is generally seen as the “correct” approach? Yes, the teacher’s!
But why should it be so? When a teacher walks into the classroom with her own values, beliefs, and perspectives, she must be willing to acknowledge that her students are also walking into the room with their own values, beliefs, and perspectives. Just because we’re 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 very thoughtful about how we address situations, making sure that we don’t imply that the student’s beliefs, values, or practices are “wrong.” Instead it wants to send a message that things are fair different In school… there is no “right”.
Clearly, if a student is throwing chairs in the hallway while yelling obscenities, that is wrong! (Yes, this was my experience as an emotionally disturbed student last year.) But, one must also be aware that something is causing the behavior and work to get to the root cause.
Often, students have to change their normal behavior once they go to school in order to assimilate. They have to speak quietly, they have to keep their hands to themselves, they have to change the way they speak, they have to dress differently, they have to stay still in their seats. We must remember that student rules are not necessarily “wrong” and school/teacher rules are not necessarily “right”. They are often justified differentAnd every teacher should consider this when working with students.
Consider what most students wear to school. How many times have teachers had to address the appropriateness of what a student should wear to school? One time I had to refer a 9-year-old wearing knee-high, red leather boots that were 6 inches tall. How we address it makes the difference. If we do this in a way that suggests (or outright states) that something a student is wearing is wrong, we’re technically insulting the student’s opinion, or worse, maybe even his family’s opinion.
Knee high, red leather boots with 6-inch heals, I learned that not only were the little girl’s boots not her grandmother’s boots, they were her grandmother’s favorite boots! My student told me she wanted to show me the shoes because she liked them so much, that’s why she wore them to school.
If I had messed with her and explained to her how inappropriate they were, I would have insulted not only her but also her grandmother! Instead, I told her how beautiful those red shoes were (yes, I have to watch out for lightning strikes!), before talking to her about her safety as I walked up and down those heels. Stairs I realized she had put her tennis shoes in her bag, so the situation was easily fixed, we both felt positive.
All day long we teachers make decisions based on what we think is best based on our own beliefs and perspectives. This is particularly evident when dealing with student behavior and social situations.
I simply suggest that teachers consider why students might make certain choices and be especially thoughtful about the words used to address those issues. It doesn’t do our students any good to feel sorry for themselves, and it also doesn’t do any good to feel hurt and angry about themselves.
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