Friday, October 14, 2016

Dignity In Discourse

So a couple of days ago, I thought about a possible incident that might happen in a school that made me think about how teachers affect the worldviews of students, but before I talk about that, I want to tell you that story I thought up.

So some kids were sitting for a test, and during the test, the teachers thought it would be a great idea to run a spot-check on the students to see if any of them had brought phones (the students were not allowed to bring phones to school). The teachers got tipped off by somebody that some students had brought phones to school and felt the need to clamp down on it immediately, while they were answering the test.

At the end of the spot-check session, they didn't find any phones, so they decided that they could rampas other "forbidden" items such as bracelets and hair wax (yeah, I was like "why on earth would you want to bring hair wax to school?" too, but I guess at twelve I didn't really think things through either). That made the teachers feel like the spot-check was somewhat justified, because they reaped a couple of trinkets here and there.

Then one particular teacher started an issue with a student, by accusing that student of bringing a forbidden thing to school. The student of course denied it (because, in all honesty, she didn't bring anything she wasn't supposed to that day). The teacher took offence to this rebuttal, so the teacher called up the PK HEM of the school so that the kid was really helpless (as if she wasn't feeling helpless already).

The first teacher then decided that it would be a good idea to bring up that the student had indeed brought a phone to school, earlier in the year, so she wasn't exactly the emblem of innocence. To that, she had no reply, but still pleaded her innocence at the current moment. The teacher took offence to that expression of innocence as well, taking it as her being "kurang ajar" towards to teacher. The student was bombarded with a lecture, all of the words going into one ear and out the other, but the feeling of loathing and humiliation (because this was done in the presence of all her classmates during a test, mind you) would go on to stay with her for the foreseeable future.

So that's the story. And it made me think about how we teachers need to remember to treat our students with dignity. Because I can admit that it's sometimes easy to get into this thinking and feeling that we are superior to them and because we are tasked with teaching them certain things, we fell like we are the bigger, wiser and better human being, and they are less than us.

I think the language in which we use to refer to the students is super important. We have to try not to talk down to them, as if they were stupid. Sure, finding words to explain a novel concept to students is challenging, and finding a way to explain without the condescension is yet another thing on the list of things we have to think about, but I think it's worth it.

Because the way in which we communicate with the students is part of a chain, or rather, a cycle. The way we talk to children will inform the way the children see fit to treat other human beings, and when they grow up, they think back to when adults spoke to them, and would most probably use that example in speaking to the people that are even younger than them. And the cycle might not have been started by us. Our elders might have spoken to us in a certain way or a certain tone, and we are just carrying that torch forward and are naturally continuing the cycle, but as teachers I think we should take it upon ourselves to be extra-conscious about that cycle and if the cycle is worth continuing or reforming.

For example, if (and I do mean if) our elders talked to us in a certain way that made us feel humiliated and was stripped of dignity, then it would be natural for us to assume (at the time) that that's just the way old people talk to young people, and that's how it's always been and that's how it's always going to be. But I think teachers are uniquely positioned in society to have an extra effect on our students because (if you have a schedule like mine), you see certain kids almost every day, and you have a say in what the students think about how old people talk to young people.

I believe that if teachers start talking to students with dignity and respect, they might get into their heads that "hey, old people talk like this to younger people," and they might carry that forward in their lives and are better able to do that to their kids. At least they have been exposed to a certain type of communication, from which they can pull and model they way they want to communicate with their peers as well as kids.

To do this, we have to sit down and really think about what speaking to someone with dignity and respect would look and sound like. And translate that to speaking to someone who is decades younger than you. The words might differ, but the essence of dignity and respect has to still be there.

And I think a big step that someone like that teacher in the earlier story could take is to always have an objective to any discourse that they engage in. We need to know what we want to get out of the interaction before we start the interaction, and even remind ourselves of that objective throughout the interaction so that we don't stray away from our original niat. We need to be clear that "hey, I'm talking to you right now so that you're clear about this thing and this other thing," and also be clear that we don't come off as "hey, you're a stupid human being and these are the ways in which you are stupid."

I don't think these are easy steps to take, because there's a lot of thinking involved and trying to be honest with ourselves. I'm still struggling with it to this day. But of course being a teacher was never meant to be easy. Let's all strive to reform that cycle and turn it into a more positive, dignified one, maybe?

No comments: