There is the common quote that states that more than what you do or what you say, people remember how you make them feel. And I can attest to that, especially when it comes to the case of my teachers from grade school.
As a teacher, I believe that yes, while it is important and necessary to teach my students the basic and not-so-basic standard subjects of math, science, biology, etc., that is not enough. We must teach our students how to be good people– we must not simply teach them to be components of society to earn and make livings for themselves and their own family units, but we must teach and encourage them to get and be in touch with being human.
We must teach them how to be in touch with society and other human beings– that they must be in touch with those near and dear to them, foster genuine realtionships with people for a good quality of life. And they must not only value learning for the money it can make them, but they must value it beyond that. They must value learning for its inherent value of being knowledge and light.
And doing so starts with our own treatment of our students.
I have more pleasant memories of my time of education in college than I have in high school and middle school. My elementary school experience was overall positive, as it should be for every child. However, the time during middle and high school are critical times within a person’s life– several changes are happening within themselves, their relationships with others, and other interior and external environmental factors. At times like these, it is especially important for students to have a sense of emotional security and stability. If they don’t have it at home, they must at least have it at school, at their place of education.
It is essential that for success, students attribute positivity to their education. As I start teaching soon, I will strive to instill such an assocation within my students. I can recall specific instances throughout school, throughout high school in particular, where I’ve had thoroughly negative experiences.
One thing I could not stand then and even more cannot stand now is when teachers laugh at their students or belittle and ridicule them for asking questions. Why are they a teacher in the first place if they’re not willing to do their job of teaching? Weren’t these teachers themselves once in the shoes of their students, being taught things that they did not previously know?
My 10th grade chemistry teacher would laugh at students for asking questions. I don’t think she understood the effect of her actions, I don’t think she meant to make them feel uncomfortable to want to learn.
But that’s no excuse.
She should have known, should have considered– she should have been respectful, period.
She seemed to genuinely enjoy her job, she seemed to really enjoy being up there in front of the classroom, going through her slides, drawing on the board and just…teaching.
But whenever a student raised their hand to ask a question, she would chuckle. Not the friendly kind of chuckle that people often let loose in between words of a conversation, but a snarky laugh, as if it was ridiculous that the student was asking a question in the first place. As if it was unheard of that a student didn’t understand the first time they were taught something new, even if it was complex. As if because a pupil had a question at all, he or she or they must have something wrong with them.
And the thing that was messed up in addition to that is how discouraging and enabling she was of students who didn’t believe in themselves.
There were two boys who made jokes throughout the class, with which the teacher and others would often laugh with. These boys also were known to be on the lower end of the grading curves. It was obvious that they had all but given up as they would play games instead of paying attention to the lectures in front of them.
I remember that once the boys made a self-deprecating joke to the class about how they were going to fail the upcoming assessment, and the teacher laughed with them– at them, adding her own words of agreement alongside her laughter to their joke.
As a teacher especially, as their teacher, that is extremely messed up. A teacher has the responsibility of not just teaching material to her students, but also encouraging them to do well and affirming their ability and their capability– at the very least, a teacher shouldn’t put her students down– espcially when the students are already hard enough on themselves.
Once during a chemistry lecture, I had a question but of course, I was scared to ask it for obvious reasons. I’d rather not have been ridiculed by my teacher and laughed at by her in front of everyone. But somehow, I managed to raise my hand.
A smirk was already plastering her face as she saw my hand in the air and called on me. I asked my question, and she started laughing, as expected, and pointed to something on the screen as it the answer were right in front of me.
But that didn’t answer my question. It was obvious that she didn’t even bother to understand my question. Over her laughing, I more firmly asked her my question, clarifying it more. Her smile died down and she answered the question respectfully, before moving on.
This respectful manner should have maintained constantly– it should have been her default, not something she had to be reminded of.
My 11th grade physics teacher was another one of those teachers who apparently thought that it was hilarious when a student didn’t understand something.
She was another epitome of the irony that teachers were here to teach, but found the prospect of teaching things to students who didn’t come with the same knowledge they had something extraordinary and laughable.
Like my chemistry teacher, I don’t think that this teacher had ill-will and ill-intent toward her students. Overall, in general, she was sweet and had a friendly demeanor. But when it came to asking her questions… she had a thin line of patience before she got disrespectful and thought it appropriate to laugh at you– particularly if you weren’t in her group of favorite students.
One of the girls in the class who I had become friends with, like me, lamented over how intimidating it was to ask our physics teacher questions when we didn’t understand something. She would not only laugh at us, but she would show us attitude. I remeber one instance where we were doing a lab including learning components of gravity and acceleration, and we had apparently misunderstood some directions of how to set up the experiment. Our teacher realized this toward the end of class, and her usually cheery-face turned to stone, her lips thin, her eyes downcast as she grumbled that we did the experiment wrong. She barely bothered to help us as we scrambled to fix the experiment as the bell rang, signaling the end of class.
I had been going through a lot during high school, as many high schoolers do. But eleventh grade in particular was extremely challenging for me.
Walking into my physics classroom with downcast eyes and clenches of anxiety in my stomach was not something that I should have to had dealt with. No student should have to deal with that fear of being laughed at or ridiculed by their teachers. Learning environments should be safe spaces, not zones of discomfort that hinder one’s learning.
While I’m calling out these actions of my teachers, I also acknowledge that like me, they were and are human. Behind the scenes of their teaching the classroom, they undoubtebly had their own life stressors and challenges outside of school. They had other businesses of humantiy that also preoccurpied their mind outside of work, becasue like everybody else, like their students, teachers each have their individual lives.
And I’m not excusing their negative and disrespectful behavior toward me and other fellow students. I’m taking what I learned from them as a reminder of what not to do, of things to be aware of. I’m using them as reminders that even with my efforts at being welcoming, approachable and encouraging to my students, they will still have scars similiar to the ones I have received from teachers when I was in their shoes. And I will work hard to mend and work past these scars with my kindness and posivitiy, make continued expressions that I value and believe in my students. I will remember how badly I felt, and strive to make sure that I never succumb to such demeaning and dehumanizing behavior toward my students and people in general.
If anything, those teachers that I mentioned could have used their empathy from lessons of their own struggles and extended it to their students instead of ridiculing them.