Sunday, November 6, 2011

Does Teachers Having Background Knowledge on New Students Harm Them?

Early on in my life, I was labeled smart, something I have discussed in other posts.  This distinction wasn't given to me because I proved myself in class or because I excelled in all academics.  The label had in fact been bestowed upon me because I had started school when I just turned 5, rather than the normal age of 6 in Denmark.  Unfortunately, I was the perpetual underachiever that just floated by unless I really, really cared about something such as creative writing and yet the label stuck through all of my years of schooling.

That label "smart" though had its advantages; teachers viewed me with a favorable lens, even when I really had no clue what I was doing.  I was assumed to be not working hard when in all actuality I really was so lost I couldn't explain many things.  And the teachers did most of the work for me,  it worked perfectly since from year to year my old teachers would tell my new teachers that I was smart and so the year was set.  I didn't have to prove anything to anyone, just sit through the barrage of parent teacher conferences where my mother was told numerous times how I wasn't applying myself.

Some may say that my teachers saw something in me that I had not recognized myself yet, and to them I say, sure...  But what is more intriguing here is really that label teachers bestow upon children and how it tends to stick with them.  They say that first impressions count and nowhere is that truer than in an educational setting.  Often by the time our students start in our classrooms, we know a little about them, maybe not all of them, but most.  We may have spoken to their previous teacher or we may know their family, or in the very least have heard of them.  Sometimes they come with a file thicker than my arm, other times they are a vast mysterious until we have our first class.  And yet, we think we have them pegged very quickly.  I often wonder how much of a different perspective one could get of a student if the first class you had with them was one in which they excelled?

So can we move away from our assumptions?  Are we, in fact, creating a barrier between us and the real student by having "background knowledge" about them?  Can we stop labeling students or is this hardwired into our nature?


educationalaspirations said...

Interesting post. I would assume that some background information would assist a teacher in planning (such as an IEP or special accomodation). Other information, such as subjective statements like: "She's bright" or "Doesn't care" might not be appropriate. Teachers need to utilize their own filtering devices when looking at student background information. I look forward to your next post.

Mrs Ripp aka @pernilleripp said...

I agree that some information is a must for students, but the more I think about it, the more I wonder how the innocent comments or small helpful comments we give each other before the new school year really are harmful.


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