Teachers, like all humans, make assumptions on a daily basis. We assume that the sun will come up in the morning (because it always has). We expect that our paycheck will come on time (because it always does). We assume that our classrooms will have power, heat, and internet access (because they usually do). Our brains are wired to look for patterns and to operate on assumptions. Sometimes though, those assumptions can be harmful.
What we assume about our students, their families, and ourselves can impede our growth and their learning.
We Limit Their Potential: Our students have potential beyond what we can see. Sometimes we let our experience limit our perceptions of their potential.
When we have been working with kids for a long time, we can begin to think we know what to expect out of them. Remember not to let your past experiences limit what you dream for your students.
We Think They Know Things They Don’t: We assume that students come into our classroom with a specific set of skills and we become frustrated when they don’t. It is easy to place blame on their parents, past teachers, or the students themselves, but placing blame doesn’t do any good. Instead of blaming, be flexible and adapt to where your students are.
We See them as Little Adults: Kids don’t think as adults do. We sometimes assume that they think like us. It is essential to listen to kids and their process and try to understand where they are coming from.
We Interpret their Behavior: We might assume we know why a student is acting a certain way, but we often miss the mark. We may see a student that is standoffish, quiet, and doesn’t complete their work and assume they just don’t care. Perhaps though, they feel incompetent, and they are avoiding being seen as such, or maybe they are going through something in their life that is making it difficult for them to focus.
Assumptions About Uninvolved Parents: If parents don’t come to the school often, we might assume they don’t care about their child’s education. We never know someone’s circumstances. Maybe they are working three jobs and can’t make it to school. We assume that parents who don’t help their kids with homework don’t see the value in education, but maybe they can’t do the work themselves or don’t speak English well enough to help their child. Making assumptions is easy. It is much harder to be compassionate and understanding.
We Have Cultural and Racial Biases: We often are biased in favor of our ways of thinking, and it is easy to assume that others think as we do. Everyone has some bias or preconceived ideas about those that are different than us. Having biases and making assumptions doesn’t make us bad people, it makes us human. The only way to combat these biases is to be aware of them and actively work to change them.
We Think Everyone Else Has It Together and We Don’t: We assume that other teachers know what they are doing and don’t ever feel insecure. We expect that after a few years we should have arrived in teaching. It is good to be open to change and improvement, but it is just as important to recognize your limitations and avoid shaming yourself for your faults.
We Think We Have It Down: Just because you have years of experience doesn’t mean you are all knowing in your subject matter. Your students are different each year, and so are their needs.
Teaching is not a static profession. Even with subject matter that you’ve taught several times, you may need a refresher or a new approach.
So, how do we avoid making assumptions about our students, ourselves, and their families? There are a few key habits we can develop to help us avoid jumping right to conclusions.
• Ask Questions: Question your own thinking. Ask others how they feel, how they think, and why.
• Self Reflection: Take time to think and reflect on yourself and your classroom. What are you doing that is working? What assumptions are you making? Be open and honest with yourself.
• Self Compassion: Don’t beat yourself up when you make a mistake. Realize you are human and that all you can do is your best. Read here for more information on self-compassion.
• Reach out: We need others to help us challenge our assumptions and move past them.
Avoiding assumptions, about both yourself and others, will help increase the potential for learning in your classroom.
The child who is ‘left behind’ most is the one who leaves school without transition readiness.
Dr. James Stanfield, Ed.D.