We all do it. We might not be conscious of it all the time, but we do it. Whether it is race, gender, nationality, religion, etc…, we stereotype. Stereotyping in general is a bad thing, but when it is done in our classrooms we are committing a grave disservice to our students.
The Spanish-speaking kid, or his parents, are not going to have a handle on the English language, when in actuality he is a bright student who speaks English fluently. The African-American male from an “inner-city” is going to be a behavior problem, when in fact he is the most polite kid you could ever meet. The girl whose family lives in the trailer park is “trailer trash,” and will eventually have a teen pregnancy. She turns out to be a straight A student! The quiet child who never speaks seems “weird,” yet leaves you a note about how much they love the class.
If we allow these stereotypes to guide the way we treat our students, we stifle them. I know a teacher who was very proud of her book club “for girls only.” I am sure she didn’t do this to offend, she probably thought it was a great idea because girls are more likely to read than boys. But what happens to the boys who are reluctant readers? Did the “girls only” book club reinforce the idea that only girls read?
What do educators do when they buy into the stereotype? Expectations are lowered. Lowered expectations lead to unchallenged, unmotivated, students. They are not given the chance to grow, a chance to accomplish more than the minimum. I can’t begin to count the number of times I have heard teachers say, “My population of students can’t….” These educators have not tried a lesson, program,etc. with these students. The assumption is made that because of their socioeconomic background, they can not rise to the challenge. I get tired of hearing about“these” students and “these” parents, as if having a degree automatically makes us better than them.
A reinforced stereotype could be as simple as an innocent comment I made to my class one day. “I need two boys to move the AR tub to Ms. L’s room.” My girls immediately questioned me as to why they couldn’t move it. I let two girls carry the tub next door.:)
It can be difficult to avoid forming opinions of people based on stereotypes. For example, you might peruse the New Admission form, and look for a number of things. Is the new kid a boy or a girl? Are they coming from another country? Where did they live or go to school?, What race are they? Are they being raised by a single parent? Your idea of who this child is begins to form in your mind, creating a biased version of this student you have never met. Instead of succumbing to the perceived stereotype, give the student a chance.
Let’s drop the brush we sometimes paint our kids with. Let’s stomp on the stereotypes and allow our students to be who they are: individuals who want and need the same chance as everyone else.
This article originally appeared in Lisa Mims’ blog Diary of a Public School Teacher!