January 6, 2012

Students vs. People

My 8th Grade Class Picture (Can you find me?)
This is the second edition of my narrative series.

When I began teaching I had a clear understanding that I would be teaching students. What I didn't understand is that often times when we look at students we don't see them as people. Students become so many other things, but they are often not thought of as people. Here's a short list of how I perceived them:

  • Numbers
  • Problems
  • Obstacles
  • Test Scores
  • Low Income
  • High Income
  • Middle Income
  • Loud
  • Disruptive
  • Low Achiever
  • High Achiever
  • Average
  • Stressful
  • IEPs
  • General Ed.
  • Grades
Not all of this was my fault - it's ingrained in you during the credential program. They feed it to you like a bad tasting medicine, with the promise that all of these labels, which aren't supposed to be labels, will help you to better understand your students' needs.

Because of these things I tried to read my students' impossible to read IEPs, which were supposed to be read and explained to me by the already over worked special ed. department. Then, I tried to talk to my students as if I understood the problems they were facing - but I didn't, and most of the time I still don't.

I wanted to change how I perceive my students, so here's a list of how I want to see them:

  • People
That's it, they're people, like the rest of us. They have problems, I have problems. They are individuals, who will do some things well, and other things terribly. I'm really good at playing video games, but I can't throw a ball all that well. What a lot of people don't realize about that is that I've dislocated my right shoulder nine times, so if I throw a ball too hard, it's possible that it will come out again. I have a subtext of background information that people need to know if they want to fully understand me. The same goes for my students, my people, that I try to teach everyday.

I'm no longer trying to pretend that I completely understand my students' problems, just like they don't completely understand mine. But, I do care that they have problems, and if there are ways that I can help with them, I'm there. We, as teachers, need to be teaching and PRACTICING empathy. What happens outside of our classrooms is, most of the time, completely out of our control, but it should not be ignored either.

I want my students to be people - as complete of people as possible. I can't do that if I treat them any other way.


John T. Spencer said...

I love the part where you remind the reader that students are people and not labels. Beautifully written, by the way.

krysty said...

Sad. But True.So So True. I remember thinking, ok, how do I relate to these kids and get to know them when I have 30 minutes to ” make” them learn? School system can dehumanize kids and force them to take on personas to create their own awareness of themselves. But would this need arise if schools did not exist? Please answer. I would like thoughts on this.