Yesterday, I wrote about the assumptions made between teachers and administrators. That led me today to think about the assumptions made between teachers and students.
Soon we go back to school. Soon a new bunch of students will enter through our classroom. And before we even get to know the humans that we will be teaching, we start to make assumptions about them. And before our students even get to know the humans that will be teaching them, they are making assumptions about us. So many of these assumptions go unspoken, but just like I believe assumptions can cause rifts between teachers and administrators, I also believe that assumptions can cause rifts between us and our students.
Many students walk into our classrooms and assume that they should wait and be told what to do.
Some assume that we do not want to hear their ideas or that they should not even bother to have ideas of their own.
Some students assume that we wish we were still on summer break.
Some students assume that there is no space for their voice in our classrooms.
Some students assume that who they are is not good enough for school or good enough for us.
Some students assume that they will never be successful in our classrooms.
Some students assume that we are looking to catch their mistakes.
Some students assume that they have to hide pieces of who they are.
Some students assume that what you want them to do is comply, not question, not challenge, not think for themselves.
And these assumptions matter. These assumptions hurt the relationship between a child and her teacher before that relationship even has a chance to be built.
And so do the assumptions that we as teachers make about our students.
Some teachers watch students walk into our classrooms and assume that they are too lazy to share any of their own ideas. Some teachers assume that their students don’t want to work hard.
Some teachers assume that their students learn just like they do and when they don’t, they assume something is wrong with them.
Some teachers assume that their students’ lives are just like theirs. That their families are just like theirs and their backgrounds are just like theirs and their homes are just like theirs. And if they are not, then we assume that they are wrong or weird.
Some teachers assume that they can tell a lot about a child based on their gender or race or religion without ever getting to know that child for the individual that he is.
Some teachers assume that they can tell a lot about a child based on the interventions she has received or the labels that have been placed on her.
Some teachers assume that a child’s parents are not involved enough or are too involved or don’t care or care too much and that they are the reason the child is having difficulties in school.
Some teachers assume that what a child’s previous teacher has to say about all the trouble that the child is must be true because how could another teacher ever get it wrong.
Some teachers assume that if a child is having trouble in school that it is the child’s fault and not our own.
And these assumptions matter. These assumptions hurt the relationship between the child and his teacher before that relationship even has a chance to be built.
And the only way around these assumptions is to challenge them out loud. Right from the start. Sometimes we have to tell our students that what they assume about us is not true. And sometimes we have to tell our students that what other teachers might have assumed about them as students, is not true in this classroom. We have to tell them right from the start and we have to keep telling them. Because it doesn’t take a whole lot of time or a whole lot of bad experiences before a child builds an assumption, but it does take a whole lot of time to break those assumptions down and to prove to our students that school can go another way. That we can be a different kind of teacher.
And we have to tell ourselves as well. We have to force ourselves to challenge our own assumptions about the children who walk into our classrooms. Because each and every child that we teach deserves for us to get to know him or her and deserves for us to put aside our assumptions.
Because one day, my child is going to walk into her first real classroom. And I hope that her teacher gets to know her before she starts to assume. I hope that she gets to know my Millie before she assumes that she has one mom and one dad. I hope that she gets to know her before she assumes that because she is a girl she is going to want to play dress up instead of playing with blocks and trucks. I hope that she gets to know her before she hands out a form or a family tree assignment that doesn’t at all fit the family that Millie has. I hope that she gets to know her before she assumes that because she doesn’t sit still for very long it must mean that she isn’t very smart or that she is trying to be disrespectful. I hope that she gets to know her before she allows her assumptions to take over.
And if that is what I want for my own child, then I know it is what I must do for every child who I have the privilege of teaching this year.