Reine Duell Bethany - Author and Illustrator
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Expectations Destroy Perception

The more I teach, the more I realize the insanity of prejudice. I always knew it was insane, but I enacted prejudices without wanting to. I emitted signals of "I am different from you." My desire was to emit the opposite, but I failed because I naturally had an inbuilt scorecard of expectations that I accrued growing up.
     My expectations hindered me from perception. In my effort not to be prejudiced against others who were different from me in some way, I tried to indicate that I welcomed differences. So focused was I on making people feel accepted that I missed what they were saying.
     The way to perceiving another is to listen, without expectation, except for the trust that the other person is fundamentally the same as I am, not fundamentally different. Then the other person is free to talk. Not only is the other person free to talk about what is the same about us, but also what is different.
     My innate self-superiority got in the way, too. I believed that because I am white, I had to make a nonwhite person feel reassured of my nonprejudice. Unfortunately, believing that the other person needed my assurance was a manifestation of my prejudging. The thing truly needed was for me to believe that the other person doesn't need me.
     This prejudice outworks itself in a different way in my college classrooms. In the past, I believed I had something to teach, so I focused on teaching instead of listening.  If, however, instead of trying to teach, I hold my students responsible to learn for themselves, then I teach better. I present them the skills they need to acquire from this course or that. I explain what the skills are for. I use the guidelines of the English department to administer assignments in which these skills can be applied. Meanwhile, I seek to listen. I seek to draw out my students' knowledge (and they know a lot). My goal shifts from getting rid of the stuff stacked on my teaching plate to awakening the confidence of students in their knowledge and learning ability.
     I think this approach works a lot better.  My students don't need me to stuff them with knowledge; they need me to present the learning goals of the course so they can assess for themselves how they will integrate the skills into their lives. Changing the way one writes is quite difficult, because writing involves habit, and changing habits is tough work. When students decide that they need to enact this change, they do it. I am often amazed at how much a motivated student can change his or her way of writing. But I can't force this motivation. I have to unlock it. The key is listening.

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