Is the Teacher Always Right?

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Think about all the experiences you have had in life, including when you were a child, all the way up to where you are now. These experiences have had a huge impact on who you are today and have certainly aided in developing your perspective on situations.

Now, think about a very diverse classroom, fantastically mixed with a variety of races, cultures, genders, learning styles, ability levels, etc. The odds that all of the students have had the same experiences and share the same perspectives as their teacher are low. So, whose perspective generally influences what happens in the classroom the most? The teacher’s perspective of course. Whose perspective is typically seen as the “right” perspective? Yep, the teacher’s!

Why should it be this way, though? When a teacher walks into the classroom with her own values, beliefs, and perspectives, she should be willing to acknowledge that her students are also walking into the room with their own values, beliefs, and perspectives. Just because we are 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 extremely thoughtful about how we address situations, ensuring we don’t imply that a student’s beliefs, values, or practices are “wrong.” Instead we need to send the message that things are just different at school… not “right.”

Clearly, if a student is throwing chairs across the hallway while yelling profanities, they’re wrong! (Yes, that was one of my experiences last year with an emotionally disturbed student.) But, we also need to be aware that something is causing that behavior, and we need to work on getting to the root of its cause.

Often times, students have to change their normal behaviors once they get to school to assimilate. They have to talk quieter, they have to keep their hands to themselves, they have to change the way they talk, they have to dress differently, they have to stay still in their seat. We have to remember that the students’ norms aren’t necessarily “wrong” and the school’s/teacher’s norms aren’t necessarily “right.” They’re often just different, and every teacher should consider this when working with students.

Think about what many students wear to school. How many times have educators had to address the appropriateness of what a student may wear to school? I had to address a 9-year old wearing knee high, red leather boots with a 6-inch heal one time. It’s how we address it that makes a difference. If we address it in a way that implies (or blatantly states) that a student is wrong for wearing something, we are technically insulting the student’s opinion, or worse yet, possibly even his family’s opinions.

In regards to the knee high, red leather boots with the 6-inch heal, I found out that not only were the little girl’s boots her grandma’s boots, but they were her grandma’s FAVORITE boots on top of it! My student told me she wanted to show ME the boots because they loved them so much, which is why she wore them to school.

If I would have gone with my gut reaction of fussing at her and explaining to her how inappropriate they were, I would have not only insulted her, but also her grandma! Instead, I told her how beautiful those red boots were (Yes, I had to watch out for lightning to strike!), before talking to her about how I was worried about her safety because of walking on that heal while going up and down the stairs. I found out she had put her tennis shoes in her bag, so the situation was easily fixed, with both of us feeling positive.

All day long we teachers make decisions based on what we think is best, according to our own beliefs and perspectives. This is especially evident when dealing with student behavior and social situations.

I’m simply suggesting teachers take the time to think about why a student may make certain choices and be especially thoughtful about the words used to address those issues. There is no benefit to making our students feel poorly about themselves, while also feeling hurt and angry at us.

write by Raphael Walton

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