Ignoring potential. Ignoring each other.

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.

* * *

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?

* * *

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.

7 responses to “Ignoring potential. Ignoring each other.

  1. It’s interesting that in 2 years teaching in Japan, I have not once had a student leave to use the bathroom during class. I’m not totally sure about this, but I think the students are told that they are not allowed to go to the bathroom during class time, so they have to go in between classes. And somehow, amazingly, it works. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re involved with what’s going on in class, but it’s crazy that a student has never had the call of nature so badly that they can’t wait until after class.

    • That’s pretty strange. It’s completely doable to take care of this stuff during breaks so that you can stay in class. That was pretty much my approach in school, but at this point I want my students to regulate themselves.

  2. Ignoring/acknowledging people is tough. When I was at the law firm, I constantly had to balance expectations with my own desire to either connect with an attorney or not. It’s all compounded by the fact that some people don’t know how to have a quick hello – everything turns into a time-consuming catch-up session. And while I like those, they’re not always necessary or wanted. Everyone has their own shit going on – I guess it’s cool to engage them if your goal is to be part of that shit.

    • A very fair point, indeed. I totally get when there’s a flood of people in the hall, but when one person passes one other person and they say nothing, my weird-sensors get tingly.

  3. Reminded me a poem that Adrian Mole–dork protagonist of the Adrian Mole diaries–wrote to his love object:

    I adore ya!
    I implore ya!
    Don’t ignore me. . .

    Being ignored is crushing. I make a point of trying to acknowledge those around me and conversely, forcing them to acknowledge me. I think it’s just as damaging when kids fail to acknowledge adults as when adults fail to acknowledge kids. The most important single thing a teacher can do to establish a relationship with his/her kids is call them by name. (And this means pronouncing it right, too!!!)

  4. Somehow I can’t see calling attention to someone who needs to pee as being a positive, affirming action. It sounds too much like shaming to me.

    Whether or not someone can “take care of business” during class breaks often depends on the number of bathrooms and the culture of the school. If you are afraid to go into the bathroom during breaks because of the bullies, or the lines in the bathrooms during break are longer than the duration of the break, then going during the class of a tolerant teacher is by far the better option.

    Saying hi to a kid as you pass them in the hall is friendly, but don’t expect kids to do the same for you. It takes a lot more courage for the person in the lower-status position to initiate a contact, and some kids are painfully shy.

    • Some very fair points there. Knowing the system of where you can do what and for how long is (unfortunately) a part of how school works for students. They become very clever about things like this.

      I won’t actually change my bathroom policy, I suppose. If you have to leave, by all means, do it. I’m hoping to change class so that no one leaves without changing the room’s dynamic.

      You’re very right about the shyness or intimidation of a lot of kids. I want to do my part to change the “status position” of students. I want to say hello so often that hallway rapport becomes standard. I want to be their partner in learning, and so fixing our disparate statuses is a step in the right direction.

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