- How has your upbringing/schooling shaped how you “read the world?” What biases and lenses do you bring to the classroom? How might we unlearn / work against these biases?
- Which “single stories” were present in your own schooling? Whose truth mattered?
I have often been accused of seeing the world through “rose colored glasses”. I use the word accused because most people don’t see their surroundings that way. I like to believe that people are inherently “good” and that there is “good” in the world. I believe that I’ve developed this mindset because of the community I grew up in, how my parents raised me and the schooling I received. I fit the norm of white, middle-class, educated female. The people that were around me and taught me were often of the same background. Therefore, I never really had to consider what my biases were until I entered a classroom to teach. I realized quickly that every student in there had their own story, their own history, their own culture and their own biases. The one that I became most aware of was how I deal with students who don’t meet my “expectations” for classroom behaviour and learning. I expect that students will sit at their desks when class is on, that they will address the teacher in a polite manner, that they will complete their work on time, and that the will not talk when I am talking. As I have spent more time in the classroom I am aware this is not the reality for every student and that I have to “check myself” to be more inclusive. For example, there can be some students whose parents are working two jobs and don’t have the time to spend helping them learn math or reading skills. So when these students come to school with incomplete work, I need to consider all that is going on in their lives, not just what I see in the class. I don’t think it is easy to unlearn biases. I do think that recognizing you have them is the first step.
Looking back at my high school time I remember leaving my small community school where there were 17 students in my grade and entering a high school where there was 350 students in my grade. It was at this point where I noticed the differences in the students at the high school I attended. There were people who just showed up, not wanting to learn. They were simply there to hang out and socialize. There were groups of individuals like myself who wanted to learn and experience what the school had to offer in terms of subjects and extra-curricular activities. There were the students who came to learn a trade and only took the minimal required core subjects. Within these groups, there were also differences that you could see, both socioeconomically and culturally. As a result, I tended to assign stereotypes and labels. My group was the “good students” and everyone else was flawed for some reason. It wasn’t until I got to know some of these people and understood where they came from that I began to understand that the line between “good” and “flawed” is not as clear as I thought.
I believe that the “single stories” that were present during my schooling were a reflection of the teacher who was at the front of the class. In most cases, this would be the European story, which would mirror the story I had to tell. The question of whose truth mattered is harder to answer. If, like I do, you subscribe to the adage, “there are three sides to every story; yours, mine and the truth”, than I believe that all the “stories” have merit and should be heard. By doing so, we stand a greater chance of developing a larger view of the world. The difficulty lies in making this happen as we tend to surround ourselves with the familiar. As students, we have a degree of responsibility to seek out more stories. As future teachers, we owe it to our students to present a variety of stories. This combination will help facilitate the learning that needs to occur.