Friday, 8 August 2014

Scratching the Surface: Stereotypes and Mindsets

Just thought about a comment I made to a student a couple of days ago. He was getting frustrated with this group of boys in my class and he said, "Should just give them a punch to stop them looking, that's the Maori way." I looked at him, and said "No it's not. The Maori way is to talk about it and sort it out." I should also mention that he then looked down at his book, where afterwards when I talked about the issue with him and why he was hurting - he was honest, talked about it and then relaxed and got back into his work passionately and happily.

How often do we let these flippant comments slide and not scratch deeper at what's actually happening?

I'm pretty quick. I refuse to let racism and racist terminolgy enter my classroom, particularly when particular stereotypes negatively affect my students minds and opinions of themselves and their ability.

There's a few issues in his statement. Let's break them down.
1. Straight away there's the thought that the way to solve the issue is by violence and therefore he must see violence at home as a way to solve issues. This may not be the case at all.
2. Another assumption: that he thinks it's normal to say and think like that. And that it's normal to be violent.
3. That it's the Māori way.

Firstly, in no means shape or form am I a counsellor. I would love to move into that side eventually because it's that reason that I got into teaching. To help people and more importantly, help where I see a need.

The biggest need I see every day is that our students don't have growth mindsets. They think that for whatever reason, they can't do x. This is not to say that every student has a fixed mindset about English and other subjects but there are a number of students who don't feel confident in sharing themselves and their ideas.

When I'm in class and talk to my students I use empowerment tools. I teach my students the importance of standing alone and being proud of who they are. I hope that they feel like they can talk to me about anything - and they do and whatever is too much for me to even think about let alone deal with - I pass it on.

When I was in my first year teaching I was in danger of getting too caught up in my students lives. I hadn't learnt the line yet. I know it now. But that year was invaluable. I learnt so much as a newbie teacher and was taught by some amazing social workers in regards to a few other empowerment tools such as Rock and Water and Mana Potential. Still. I refer way more now than I did then. Because back then I was in saving mode and thought I really could save the world. But like Sarah Kay says, our hands will always be too small to catch every bit of pain we see in the world.

Also, I trust our system and have complete faith that our guidance counsellors will follow up on any names I give them.

Of course, my core business is always teaching English, but as someone who trained in social studies and History as well, it's hard to break loose from the deeper issues. As an English teacher there is more of a chance to pick up the issues the kids bring in with them. Mainly because we open the emotional floodgates and allow them to discuss those issues if they need to.

We teach often emotional and thought provoking texts that are relateable and have deeper meanings within them. We hope to help influence our students' lives through texts like these and as such we tend to engage in those discussions, that prior knowledge. We see the issues because it's a safe place and try to keep it safe in every way possible.

Last year when one of our students passed away, I was teaching my students about 'The Outsiders' and when we got the news we were just about to start looking at the themes. Two of the themes are importance of friendship and the loss of a friend or someone close.

It was incredibly hard to teach. I was feeling the heartbreak in the room and the only way we could get through was by teaching to and through it. So I did.

In the past I have taught whole units on teenage issues, where we discussed those big dilemmas. We had open discussions, question box time and made use of the programmes already in place, Youthline, Kidstown and the school social workers and guidance counsellors.

The big issue here for me as I'm sure you can tell - is that my student was frustrated and the only way he knew how to solve it was to say something like that. Yes I noticed what he said, and yes we talked about it afterwards where we got to the root issue in class. But what I don't have the ability to do is delve into the crevices of societal stereotypes to change this boys thinking about himself and the fact that he said and surely could think that violence is the Māori way. Which it's not. Sure it was for warring parties and the concept of utu (revenge etc), but peace was found where it could be found and then harmony was restored.

What I do have the superpower of - is listening, empathising and trying to understand others' perspectives. In this way I can help influence my students abilities with these skills and hopefully teach them the power of their own thinking and the importance of being true to themselves and upholding their own mana and integrity as much as possible.

I actually think it's time we had a small group circle up to sort it out. Because if it's still small then it doesn't need to become a bigger issue.

I love how my girls, particularly B, are leading the way towards maturity and that they're looking down at the boys waiting for them to catch up. At the start of the year, all but one of the boys were fresh and young and were very silly and immature. Halfway through the year I'm starting to see more maturity and the boys are thinking. Which is great. The girls often lead their own initiative and get down and on to work where possible.

Sometimes too - when issues are made out of a small something then it becomes bigger than it ever needed to be.

Moderation, thinking, awareness and judgement calls are all important tools within the classroom.

It's now 6.35am. Still awake. More posts to fix up and finish :)