Today is the first day of classes, so I’m almost jittery with excitement, nervousness, confidence, and confusion. All this means I was at school yesterday preparing, when something all too typical happened. I was ignored, as happens every day, to just about everybody. Seriously, can’t we do better?
Take into consideration that adult faculty members often stand in elevators together, never saying so much as a word of recognition, as though they were standing alone. How undignifying!
It’s astounding sometimes how well we ignore human life, particularly in school, and I want it to stop.
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It wasn’t a major burn or anything. I don’t suspect any malice in it at all. I was just walking in the undercroft (the basement where I teach) when I passed two students sitting on the floor. I’ve seen them countless times before. I know their names, etc, but as I walked by (within arm’s length) they gave me nothing. They ignored me. Not a look. Not a “hey.” Nada.
It’s really not so bad, right? I can handle it, because I don’t need their attention on a fundamental level, but sometimes I think our students really do. For some students I get the feeling it’s what they want/need most of all, and that they cannot comfortably learn at school before first gaining some recognition for existence. (Obligatory Maslow reference)
I’m here! I’m a person! Don’t ignore me!
When unacknowledged, in ways big and small, many students put their energy and cleverness towards gaining attention in Times Square-like fashion. Haven’t we all seen this? Attention-grabbing clothes, outrageous comments, and the sheer loudness of their behavior are a few examples. I follow a student online who admits to choosing her shoes, simply so she will be looked at. The attention of her peers consumes her, and is it any surprise she is struggling with school?
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This got me thinking about bathroom policies. In the past, I’ve allowed students to get up and leave “as needed,” which means that in the middle of class activity or lecture, a student will just stand up and silently leave, while class goes on indifferently. That seemed great at the time, because I didn’t have to pause and say, “yes, of course you can go to the bathroom, if you need to,” but now it feels weird.
If Ginger gets up, walks out, and class continues indifferently, how well involved could she possibly have been? How well could her intelligence have been activated or utilized? The disappearance of any student in the middle of class should be worthy of acknowledgement. It should be a loss for both parties. We all have experiences we don’t want to miss for a moment. Why not class?
* * *
Most obviously, our curriculum is indifferent to the students. It’s standard. Teachers may care about their students on personal levels, but the tests do not. The legislators do not. The mandates do not. They are indifferent.
Today I made it my goal to acknowledge the people around me. I reached out to lots of new students and hopefully helped them feel welcome and recognized.
My day one teaching objectives: This class is about you. I’m not ignoring you. I’m not indifferent. What can we do together? How can this year be great for you.