by Nicole M. G. Brennan
When I was a student in elementary and high school, there were certain myths I had about how school operated. These were terribly misguided and I only realized some of them weren’t true after I became a teacher myself. Some of the assumptions I had about school were based on observations I made and behaviors I noticed in others. Below are 5 of the misguided thoughts I had about teaching and learning and experiences that showed me I was wrong.
Teachers Don’t Have Ears
Whenever there was extra class time after a lesson, and we were allowed to have conversations, my friends and I would talk with abandon. We would openly gossip, make fun of teachers, and complain about assignments. All the while, I assumed the supervising teacher couldn’t hear what we were saying. Surely he or she would stop us?
Nope. I now know these teachers were strategically pretending not to listen. When students are having discussions after a lesson, teachers can definitely hear what you are saying if you use a conversational volume. Unless students consciously lowered their volume, I was able to hear everything. I decided I would not intervene in these conversations or indicate I was listening unless students: a) were talking about illegal behavior or an incident I was mandated to report or b) students were actively teasing or bullying another student.
The conversations I heard were mostly mundane. However, I’m sure a few of my students would be embarrassed to know what I know about them.
Teachers Don’t Have a Life Outside of School
Whenever I imagined my teachers, it was always in the classroom. I knew intellectually teachers went home at the end of the day, but I imagined they just continued being a teacher at home. All they did was grade papers and care for their own children.
I remember seeing a teacher at a restaurant drinking a beer. I thought it was scandalous! I wasn’t able to separate the identity she had in the classroom and her life outside of school. Isn’t she a teacher all of the time?
Well, kind of. My role as an educator is with me all of the time, but I do enjoy activities outside of teaching. I’m blessed to have family and friends who I can talk to about a variety of topics – not always teaching. And sometimes, (gasp), I’ll have wine with dinner.
All of the Teachers are Friends with Each Other
Maybe it was that teachers shared the same lounge or the fact they all enforced the same rules, but I really believed my teachers were all friends. I imagined they would get together after school and talk about students. I thought they all had the same thoughts and opinions about school policies. They were all uniform and supported one another.
However, just as there are cliques among students in high school, I found there are also cliques among teachers. At my first teaching job on the first day of school, one of the older teachers cornered me in the workroom. She gave me the lowdown on the other teachers in my department and explained who I should look out for. At my second teaching job, the two cliques each ate on a separate floor because there was such animosity. I ate on the second floor the first day and felt so uncomfortable I didn’t eat there again the rest of the year.
All Students Have the Same Ability to Learn
Until I was in high school, I thought everyone had the same amount of learning potential. I truly believed that although some students were naturally intelligent, everyone could learn if they tried hard enough. When we read out loud in class, and some students were slower than others, I impatiently read ahead. Why didn’t they just get better? I heard some students in special education got to do easier assignments. How unfair! S/he failed English? But it’s SO easy!
As a teacher, I was able to see the differences in how each student learned individually and the effect their home life had on their academic performance. Coming into school, a lot of my classmates were already at a huge disadvantage because they came from poverty. Many didn’t have the same pressure from their parents to succeed in school and never gained an appreciation and love of learning. On top of this, there are some people who will struggle with a learning disability their entire lives. It is only fair that their curriculum is specifically designed to give them support to learn skills.
Intelligence isn’t everything and school isn’t a meritocracy.
My Teacher Should Let Me Know if I’m Missing an Assignment
This isn’t so much something I believed, but I noticed students expected this out of me. On top of planning lessons, grading assignments, coaching a speech team, and trying to have a personal life, I had several students wonder why I didn’t come to them individually to let them know they missed an assignment and explain again how to complete it.
Umm, no. If school is supposed to prepare students for the “real world,” they need to take responsibility over managing their time and tasks. This is even easier for students to manage now because of online grading programs. You know what would solve this problem? A planner.