Thursday, August 13, 2009

Judging a Book by Its Cover

I’m sure we all have heard the saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” But I find myself doing it anyway. We recently went on a trip to Franconia Notch, NH where finding a place to stay was quite difficult. Most of the hotels were full because it was the weekend so it was slim pickings. I finally found The Hillwinds Lodge that was reasonably priced and we headed to it (20 min. drive) after calling and finding they had 2 rooms left. It looked pretty rustic and isolated when we saw it so we drove past it in order to discuss our options. Finally we decided we didn’t have many options other than to stop or drive for hours further and we still might not find any place. So, we decided to give this place a try. When we drove up, I noticed well kept flower beds with beautiful assortments of flowers everywhere. The owner of the motel checked us in and he was a delight to talk to. Our room was huge and clean. I really like the smaller “mom and pop” type motels rather than the big chains. They seem more personal and homey. Usually the owners make you feel more appreciated and welcome. I’m so glad that we chose to stay there because we had a wonderful visit with the owner after we checked in and decided this really wasn’t as rustic and isolated as we first thought.

This whole experience made me wonder if I do the same thing with my students. When they arrive in my classroom, do I look at what they are wearing or how clean they look? Am I looking at their body piercing and their mannerisms? Am I judging them from what another teacher has told me? Isn’t this the same as judging a book by reading someone else’s review? Sure, it might be helpful but sometimes I have to read the book in order to find out whether I agree with the review or not.

I have found that sometimes the best dressed student with seemingly great manners and looks can be the biggest hellion on earth. Sometimes this student can be sneaky and hope that his manners and looks will distract you from his true self. Sometimes this student comes from an affluent family who tends to defend their child no matter what he has done and no matter if he is wrong. When I get a student like this, I sometimes find he can be a spoiled child who always has to have his way. And then sometimes, this student is nothing like the above and can be the best student in the classroom. He might come from a family who cares about how he is dressed and acts in order to make the best impression on others. His family may expect him to act appropriately and do the right things. I sometimes find parents of this type of student can be extremely supportive and encouraging to the student and to me, as the teacher. They understand the value of education and want me to teach their child the best that I can.

I have also taught the student that other teachers do not seem to appreciate. This is the student in torn and possibly dirty clothing. He might be in desperate need of a haircut and has grease under his fingernails. He is what my fellow teachers might call a “redneck.” His manners may be a little on the rough side and speaking to him might cause you to wince a little because he doesn’t speak “proper English.” Now I’ve taught students like this who could make you want to run out of the room screaming. This student and his parents do not seem to understand the value of an education and he is only there because the law requires him to be there. I’ve called home about behavior only to be told that they can’t control him either. On the other hand I have had students like this who symbolize hard work and honesty. The clothes and the dirt show that this student works hard along with his family to survive life. I’ve had parents of this student who do not tolerate disrespect, dishonesty, or laziness. This student may have been hardest working student I’ve ever had and I find I can depend on him more than any other student. When he accomplishes something, we all feel exhilarated at his success.

Both of these examples show that if I judged the student from the outside, I could have wasted a valuable opportunity. I needed to find out more about the student beyond looks and manners in order to find the real student. If I don’t take the time to understand the student better, I will be wasting my time and possibly spinning my wheels. Once I find out what the student is really like, I may be able to make a positive change in their life and then it is a win-win situation. It is so important to look beyond the student in order to help him be successful in the real world.

Original image: 'My name is Bubba' by: ann blair


Magali said...

You seem to have an open and tolerant attitude toward your students. Too bad many teachers are not like this.

loonyhiker said...

@Magali I wish more teachers did feel like this. I can only hope that by sharing my thoughts, it might change some teacher's ideas on this subject.

Heather Loy said...

I have to remind myself not to judge our students based on appearance OR first introductions. Many of the students who made poor first impressions turned out to be my favorite students by the time they graduate. Thanks for all of your insightful posts.

loonyhiker said...

@Heather I am also amazed that some of my favorite students are the ones that other teachers can't stand. Maybe it is me, or the students, but I'm glad that I can be there for them.