Saturday, February 11, 2012

Assumptions and Impositions

With an intern (preservice teacher) working in my classroom my reflections are more focused on certain areas than on others. Sometimes this results from his questions but sometimes it's simply that the presence of an intern causes me to look anew at certain pieces of my practice. Interestingly enough, as a mother of two young girls (ages 8 and 5) many of my reflections on the classroom flow in and out with reflections on parenting.

One current train of thought for me is about what I assume about students. Teachers are constantly trying to understand why students do the things they do, academically, socially, and behaviorally. That's a big part of thinking about how best to help them grow in all those areas.

However, I believe that too often I am making assumptions about students' motives that are, if not outright wrong, at least uncharitable on my part. For example, I may assume that students are not focused on their reading or their writing because they are goofing off. It's quite likely that they are taking a little break (something we all need to do pretty regularly) or are in the midst of transitioning from one task to another. It's also possible that they are working but it's not visible work; they may be thinking about their reading or writing or the conversation they are having with a friend may be about the task.

I've set myself a goal to not assume, or at least to rethink assumptions when I make them.

Along with that, I'm also trying not to impose my assumptions on my students. If I chastise a child for goofing off, or even if I say to them, "Focus on what you're doing." or "Make sure you're making a smart choice." I'm sending them the message that what they are doing at that moment isn't a smart choice or isn't focused. If they are discussing their learning or thinking about it the last thing I want to do is suggest that they are doing something wrong.

This is sending me down a path of thinking about showing my students respect and listening to them more. Those ideas will have to wait for another day for me to flesh them out more fully.


ProfPete said...

Thoughtful and thought-provoking post, Jenny.

It's easy for us teachers to assume the worst of our students, if we don't stop to think. I remember having to stop myself one day from telling students to stop what they were doing, realizing that I had somehow got into a sort of "stop having fun" frame of mind, and was going around looking for trouble (and finding it all over the place).

I'm sure you are sharing your reflections with your intern; hopefully he is picking up a great deal from your experience and your wisdom.

I am blessed to work with teacher interns at university, and it's a privilege to be at their elbow for advice when they ask, or to prompt their thinking with a question.

Jenny said...

ClassProf, it is astounding how easy it is to find trouble when you are searching for it. I have to agree that it is such a privilege to work with teacher interns. I hope they learn half as much from their time with me as I learn from my time with them.

Wil said...

Thanks for sharing your experience. I'm learning about motivation, drives, and especially how to meet kids where they are in the context of learning environments.

Making the assumption that they are messing around seems to be easier to do when we are frustrated and need to gain some sense of control over the environment. As a therapist and constant student of psychology, I see folks expecting to have certain controls over things they just don't.

Folks seem to default to the use of fear to "keep them in line" when it comes at a high cost - stifling a self-motivated interest to explore and learn.

Thanks so much. Count me as your newest twitter follower!


Jenny said...

Wil, thanks for the kind words. Control is something that I am thinking more and more about these days. Both when considering what the students are striving for through their behavior as well as how much I am trying to keep it. I think we would all function better if we were able to let go of that need for control, at least a bit.