How do you deal with prejudice from students?

Discussion in 'Secondary Education' started by Peregrin5, Jun 10, 2017.

  1. Peregrin5

    Peregrin5 Maven

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    Jun 10, 2017

    I'm leaving teaching, but I still like to think about what happened this year and what I could have done better or how I could deal with particular situations. I think I'm just a compulsive reflector, lol. (Doesn't help when I'm awake in the middle of the night thinking about social faux pas I made years and years ago, LOL! I'm still kicking myself over some of them.)

    Anyway, just some background, I moved from a very widely recognized liberal area with a lot of diversity to an area which is very anti-liberal, rural, and 99% white. I also happen to not be white, so I stood out even more. I encountered a lot of prejudice because of who I am especially during this election year. I never discussed my political beliefs, only shared details about my relationship when I was specifically asked and this didn't happen until later in the year, but the kids knew I came from the Bay Area in California, and I was an ethnic minority, so they could guess. Also some googled me and saw my BF and made their decisions based on that. Also the course I teach covers some controversial (in their minds) topics, and though I did my best to hide my own bias in that area, I'm sure they would be able to guess my positions on things.

    Anyway, these things combined with this community which is very close-minded led me to experience a lot of resistance from the get go from parents and students who did not want a liberal "hippy-dippy" science teacher teaching them. Some were jerks about it. But even ones who were not jerks, students that I really enjoyed teaching even though we have differing beliefs seemed to think that I would grade them differently just because I had different ideas than them. For instance, a student who did great work in class and who I really enjoyed teaching asked me to tell her what she did wrong (in the sense of a personal "wrong") when she received less than perfect grades on certain assignments. This broke my heart and I went through the assignments with her to show her that it was nothing personal, she just didn't meet the requirements or made certain mathematical errors on certain things. We live in a very polarized time, and I hate for students to think that I would dislike them for having different views than me and would penalize them for it. I pride myself on regarding every student based on their own merits and their character (and there were some I personally disliked because they were severely lacking in the character department, but I would never tell them that).

    Anyway, how can we get past this polarization as educators in the future to express to students that we would never grade them differently based on their political or personal beliefs?
     
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  3. whizkid

    whizkid Groupie

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    Jun 10, 2017

    Even if you weren't leaving teaching, I'd say get out, now!

    You can't bring people to 2017 who'd rather live in the 50s...................

    The 1750s.
     
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  4. vickilyn

    vickilyn Multitudinous

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    Peregrin5, I have bias that is 180 degrees from yours, but just as troubling. I am not of a minority ethnic group, but teach virtually 100% students who are of minority ethnic groups, and I am accused of being biased because my skin is the wrong color and they openly state that they believe I have an ulterior motive for choosing to work with minority students in SPED. Some days, I am exhausted at the end of the day, tired of having every word or concept questioned because I do not share ethnicity with them. My only recourse is to simply show up, day after day, with no agenda except to teach science. I take solace in the fact that even these students who are ready to accuse me can understand and tell that I see the world through science. It is almost a religion, it certainly is my perspective. My favorite lesson? No matter what your ethnic background or skin color, we are all descendents of those same courageous explorers who migrated out of Africa and populated an entire world.
     
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2017
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  5. GPC0321

    GPC0321 Companion

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    Jun 10, 2017

    And I'm somewhere in between vickilyn and Peregrin5. I'm a white female living in a very conservative, rural area. I lean farther left than 99% of the people I encounter on a daily basis, and whenever that is detected by students or parents (and I go above and beyond to remain as neutral as possible), I'm called out for it and eyed with suspicion. But I also have minority students (mainly African-American), and have heard the "It's because I'm black, isn't it?" accusation on multiple occasions when I've had to speak to a student about behavior or a student has gotten a low grade.

    The political climate in this country is troubling to me, but I do everything in my power to keep politics and my personal views out of my classroom. Which kind of sucks, because there are some students in our school who aren't part of the ultra-conservative Christian mindset, and I can tell they feel like outcasts. Anyone who dares offer a viewpoint that opposes the majority around here gets shouted down and branded a "d*mn liberal" and that's that.

    I'm going to stay in this area until I retire because my mom lives here and she's getting older and I want to be near her. But once she's gone and I'm retired, I've got to go somewhere that's a little Left of this place, if you catch my drift. It's hard when you feel like you have to hide who you truly are just so you aren't harassed on a daily basis.
     
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  6. GPC0321

    GPC0321 Companion

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    That's kind of cool. I like the idea of turning their prejudice into a learning opportunity!
     
  7. Peregrin5

    Peregrin5 Maven

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    This is interesting, but I don't think it would have helped much in my situations. They are not usually flat out telling me their prejudices to my face. They are held in silence, but obvious to anyone paying attention.
     
  8. skeptic

    skeptic Rookie

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    Jun 12, 2017

     
  9. skeptic

    skeptic Rookie

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    I am new here so please kindly let me know if I make a mistake regarding forum rules. :)

    Peregrine - you asked "Anyway, how can we get past this polarization as educators in the future to express to students that we would never grade them differently based on their political or personal beliefs?"

    But aren't people in general always judged for a time, whether it is on their political mindset, beliefs, culture, or speech?

    Anytime one moves to a new area they (as an outsider) are questioned and distrusted until they prove themselves to not be a threat. Look for the common ground. Example: I live in an area that is growing at a horrendous pace. Not only are we seeing growth from natives coming out of the city, but people from other states moving in. People move into the area and want to change things. Right or wrong this creates suspicion and distrust no matter what. A long-timer thinks, "well you (an outsider) moved here because you thought it was such a great place. The place you came from had such problems, but now you want to change this safe community to be like where you moved from? Why move here? Why destroy my area too?"

    I think in response to your question.... time, modeling the behavior (I am a fair-minded person - a person of good character), and perseverance would be the answer. But from what I understand you are retiring now (or soon)?
     
  10. Peregrin5

    Peregrin5 Maven

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    I understand the distrust. My question is how to get past it. I don't want students thinking that I will be judging them unfairly, and I've never done so in the past, so they are only getting that idea because they have preconceived notions about what people with my views are like usually based off of false notions told to them by their parents.

    Time is one way, but I only have these students for a year (and yes I'm leaving next year), so how would you address it within the first few months so you have fewer problems later on? The problem could simply be the community is very close-minded and distrustful of others because they do not have a diversity of ideas and people so getting them to trust others would simply be a lot harder in a more diverse community. This unfortunately leads to very negative effects such as certain kids feeling like outsiders and high suicide rates because of this, and I hope they do make changes because the kids are dying here.
     
  11. skeptic

    skeptic Rookie

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    Don't you have preconceived notions too?

    How would you know all your students views? And Is your preconceived notion true in all cases? I would think that some views could be preconceived as you mentioned, but other views can be formed from experiences, friends, or social media. What is your other evidence?

    Has no one n the community gone off to college or the military and returned? No one is of a different religion? No one commutes to a different town for employment? No one has relatives or spouses that moved into the area? How can you be certain what their distrust is based on, or what everyone in the community thinks? (Note: I have lived in very tiny towns and big cities. Many of the same factors exist.)

    You mentioned that there is no diversity. If certain kids are feeling like outsiders, then not everyone fits into one mind set or mold. I teach in a very diverse, affluent, growing district. We have had several students commit suicide just this year, but each case has a number of factors. How can you be sure that there is only one cause?

    Do you mind if I ask you why you chose this town or school district? Are you planning on remaining in the community when you retire at the end of the year?
     
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  12. greendream

    greendream Cohort

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    I would make sure you break down your own prejudices about the community first and foremost. The way you describe the people in your community sounds a bit judgy to me.
     
  13. agdamity

    agdamity Fanatic

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    I think it boils down to forming relationships. Once you begin to break down barriers, you can see people for who they really are instead of who you think they are. You have one set of beliefs about people in the community, and you say those people have one set of beliefs about you. Neither side is one hundred percent correct.
     
  14. Peregrin5

    Peregrin5 Maven

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    I would think it goes without saying that I of course don't think any community is completely uniform. That's kind of a silly thing to assume that I missed. I'm thinking about the majority of the community and the prevalent characteristics of it. Every teacher should know their community, and I'm only going by my experiences this past year. Everyone has prejudices including me, but I try to be aware of them. It doesn't change the suicide rate (or the cause of the suicides which were well documented) or the rates of racist incidents (swastikas drawn, anti-Islamic, homophobic slurs) at my school. It's not prejudice, simply facts.

    It would be naiive to blind myself to the facts and pretend that I work in a highly diverse open and accepting community, when the truth is simply not that.

    Regardless, I don't see how this fits into what I am asking. I do not let my prejudices or views affect the way I grade students or how I treat them. My question is how do I get them to understand that?
     
    Last edited: Jun 12, 2017
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  15. GPC0321

    GPC0321 Companion

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    Tell them. Often the easiest path is the simplest. Get real with them. Teach lessons on prejudice. Explore the topic. I've done so through teaching two novels (Night and To Kill a Mockingbird). The discussions on prejudices and stereotypes aren't always comfortable. Some kids don't like the topic, but that's because they're insecure about their own prejudices. I like to point out that it's perfectly normal for humans at their basest levels to be prejudiced against anyone or anything we perceive as different. That's a survival instinct, and it is driven by pure fear. We fear what we do not understand because we think it is a threat to our survival. Prejudice, then, is a product of ignorance (and I have to pause here to reassure them that being "ignorant" has nothing to do with their intelligence. It simply means one lacks exposure and understanding, therefore doesn't know any better). So we discuss how learning about people who are different from us, getting to know them, taking the time to try and understand them and their views, doesn't necessarily mean we have to adopt those same views or even support them, but at least we are more enlightened about people who are different. And that leads to more tolerance and less prejudice.

    And sure, there are some whose minds are steel traps that have been rusted shut since the day they were born, as were their parents' and their grandparents' minds. Or some just cannot handle a mature and honest discussion about a topic that they are not mature and honest enough to discuss yet. But at least it sets the tone and allows those students who might not normally speak up a chance to chime in and voice their views.

    Sometimes I feel like combating fear, hatred, ignorance, prejudice, and intolerance are actually my main goal as an educator. And it's no easy task, especially in some communities (like mine!).
     
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