Students: No Longer “The Other”

I am taking Professional Development Leave this year.  One of my unstated goals is to reconnect with the role of student.  I’ve been done with school for so long, that until this year, I really no longer saw myself as a student.  Over the years, I came to see students as “the other.”   That mentality is commonplace in situations of violence.  It is as though our minds have to separate ourselves from the “other” in order to perpetuate a violence against them.  So then, I am concerned that over the years I have slipped into a teacher/student dichotomy.  That framing might be just the condition needed to not act in the best interests of my students.  That is what I’m currently reflecting on.

One struggle that I’m having in my student role is connecting online with a classmate to complete relatively short assignments due a couple times per week.  Last semester, I found a partner who had a lot of availability, because she was young, living at home, taking classes and volunteering one day a week.  We encountered a lot of technology frustrations, but overall it felt like a positive experience.  This spring semester, I have a partner who works several days a week.  Submitting assignments on time has proven difficult.   Sometimes I get zeros on those assignments (and others), not because I don’t do them or because I don’t learn what I need to, but because I don’t do them on time.  I’m OK with that, but I wonder what effect it has on my teachers.  I have a fairly complex life, with classes and family.  I don’t have to earn an A in my classes.  So I can take zeros without risking anything like admittance to another school.   But what about the students who don’t feel they can take that risk?  If their lives are fairly simple, then I suspect they can manage.  But what of the students who have complex lives, with jobs and family obligations?  When I set up my calendar to have assignments due 3-5 times per week, am I really supporting their workload management?  Or am I condemning them to a slew of zeros based on hard choices?  And when I require them to or request that they complete work outside of class in pairs or groups, am I adding to their growth and experience or am I further complicating their lives?

At this point, I have to say, “It depends.”  It depends on each student and on the current conditions/constraints of their life.  I find myself teaching in a system that is based on a “factory model” of education.  This one-size-fits-all model definitely rewards conformity.  But to what extent does it uplift and support the individual?   If I were in my own class, how would I be evaluated?  Do I have a system of assessment that supports growth or conformity?  Maybe this is part of what is meant by the phrase, “meet students where they’re at.”  I am so curious and excited to get back into the class with fresh eyes!

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2 thoughts on “Students: No Longer “The Other”

  1. The best teachers are in touch with what it’s like to be a student, just like the best judges remember what it’s like to be a prosecutor or defense attorney, the best doctors know what it’s like to be a patient, and the best parents remember being kids (that vile invasion of privacy a 15-year-old can feel when his mother says, “good morning,” for instance.) All teachers should periodically be students in our system. Keeps it real. (Isn’t that the point of professional development?)

    Love your insight of how our factory-model education system “otherizes” students to perpetuate the violence against them. Let’s fight that. How does the medical profession do that? First, do no harm? Good place to start.

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    1. Yes. “First, do no harm.” I have a lot of confidence in the intention of teachers. But I’m questioning our effectiveness. I question this system that produces adults with such dysfunctional relationships with math!

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