Archive | March, 2011

Perception wins: What Natalie Munroe forgot about teaching

5 Mar

It frightens me how fragile perception is. It’s the difference between viewing someone as visionary or annoying. Honest or cruel.

A word is dead
When it is said,
Some say.

I say it just
Begins to live
That day.

I’m with Emily Dickinson on this one. As much as we want to, we don’t own our words. As soon as we let them escape from our lips, someone is already processing them. And not always the way we intended.

That’s not what I said!

That’s what you heard.

While I’ve used the excuse “so-and-so is too sensitive” to dismiss concerns over my words before, I’m learning to embrace the power of perception and take it more seriously. It is the force behind every action on earth. We react because we perceive. Sometimes we are calm enough to reevaluate our perceptions before we react but often we let passion get to us first. If this is true of level-headed adults, why are we surprised when hormone-infused teenagers don’t perceive (immediately) the nine levels of life before they respond? I’ve been spouting my perception mantra for a while now to my students. When they complain to me that another teacher scolded them for being disruptive, I often get some version of this:

“We were super polite/kind/courteous and he didn’t even give me a chance to–before he–that man is crazy!”

The gist of my usual reply: “If he perceived you as disruptive, respect that, and figure out why. Next time, enter the room differently.”

Since my former yearbook staffers had to enter classrooms to take students out for interviews, it was necessary they understood the intricacies of invading people’s space. As a teacher, I know how invasive the alternative approach can be. Kids sometimes walk in without introducing themselves then ask you for things. “Do you have a stapler/pencil sharpener/bottle of white out?” Or even worse, they demand things. “I need so-and-so.” My blood boils a little at that last one and I get very “I’m the boss here” and sometimes overreact. Here’s a classic example:

I’m in the journalism room. We’re on deadline. Student-I-don’t-know enters the room.

Perfectly nice girl: “I need to borrow a [photo] card reader, [student I know] said you guys have one.”

Me (don’t-have-time-for-mooching-right-now): “Um, yes, we do. Who are you and what do you need it for?”

Perfectly nice girl who now feels embarrassed: “Sorry, I’m [gives name], and I need this for a project. [Name of student who knows me and overestimates my generosity] said you wouldn’t mind.”

Me (realizing she’s been mislead by student who thinks I’m cooler than I am): “How long will you need it? Just a few minutes?”

Girl who shouldn’t listen to her friends: “Two nights. I promise I’ll bring it back when I’m done.”

Me (patience broken, tone decidedly unfriendly): “I don’t even know you, and even if I did, I couldn’t let you borrow something my students use every day, all day. We have a deadline!”

She apologizes and leaves sheepishly. I never saw her again.

After she left the room, my editor-in-chief notified me quietly, “you were mean to her.”  I probably launched into a defense citing the girl’s ridiculous request, but it doesn’t matter. All that girl will remember about me is how I made her feel when she left. She probably learned little else.

In case you missed it, a Pennsylvania high school English teacher vented about her “lazy whiners” on her personal blog, and has since been suspended. She’s been defending herself ever since. Though the most offensive comments have been taken down, the damage is already done. In a recent school board meeting, the district superintendent deemed it “impossible” for her to return in the fall after scheduled maternity leave, citing the “hostile educational environment” her blog comments created. She didn’t consider that her students might find her blog so she wrote like it was a group e-mail to friends and family. Continue reading