My first week of school is now over. During this week more than any, one thing that’s on my mind is where we start with our trust levels with students. These comments are based on my experience as a high school teacher.
Some teachers seem to think that all of our students lie to us, that they all exploit “you’re racist” and similar accusations to avoid accountability, and that our goal is to mold our students into our model of appropriate behavior.
Some teachers, like me, think that most of our students want to be honest with us, they want to honestly express their frustration at how teachers treat them (including unexamined racism, sexism, and so forth), and that our goal is to create a safe space for students to become responsible and respected adults.
I have about a hundred students on my roster this semester. I know that a few of them are probably troubled and will exploit every opportunity to trip me up. I know that most of them are so used to lying to some level that they’ll lie to me once in a while just out of habit, and over silly things. Not because they want to, not because they’re dishonest people whose dishonesty needs to be crushed out of them, but because they’re human beings who feel powerless, who feel like the adults around them are capricious power-trippers, and who will do what they need to do (as humans) to survive with passing grades.
This is not a climate that is conducive to growth. I often reflect, especially during the beginning of the year, on how our actions as adults feed those insecurities. Instead of insisting that we’re not racist, we should ask ourselves: Why do the students making that accusation feel that way? Instead of insisting that all students lie, we should ask ourselves: What is it about their environment that encourages students to try to lie, even when it’s obvious? Have we created a space where students feel they gain more from honesty?
Students are human. Humans tell lies. Humans avoid accountability when they don’t see the point. Humans also hurt and don’t always know how to express that hurt effectively. Instead of seeing education as “teachers” vs. “students,” consider seeing it as humans engaged in a complex dance for respect and identity, including many humans that (as teens) haven’t been given the opportunity to learn the dance steps fully yet.