I’m teaching 9th-grade English at a school in North Philadelphia. This, in itself, is exciting. However, what is more exciting is that I met my summer school students today. Well, I met them in person today. I had already “met” them yesterday, when I graded their diagnostic assessments. Upon meeting them, I realize that first impressions matter: the tallied red tick marks served as my first interaction with my students. As I entered the results in my Excel spreadsheet, questions about my students flooded my mind. “Why did JR score so poorly?” or “If TG scored this well, why is she in summer school?” or even “What type of person is LA?”
I didn’t realize it then, but before I had even glimpsed my students, I was already making judgments. I had but a few numbers, yet I was constructing a profile of what each student was like and how he or she behaved. I’m not proud of this, especially since I know I need to cast off all assumptions I have about the types of students that I will be teaching, both this summer and in the two years to come. I guess, though, it is important that I recognized this behavior through reflection.
Well, getting back on track, I welcomed the opportunity to finally meet my students in person, for this allowed me to begin gaining a more accurate understanding of the students I would be teaching so that I might better meet their needs as a teacher. After our Summer Mentor Trainer (SMT)—a 35+ year School District of Philadelphia veteran who taught my class this first week— introduced my Collaborative (group of 4 teachers lesson-planning together) to the class, I began to gain a more accurate picture of who my students actually were. The gateway question was posed by my SMT: “I want to know something and I’m sure your teachers want to know too: why are you here in summer school and not in Ocean City, Maryland?” (Presumably Ocean City is a summer hotspot.)
The responses varied, but I was surprised by the misalignment between test scores and my in-person interactions. TG, for example, scored quite well on her diagnostic. Yet, when asked to explain why she was in summer school she responded, in an unconcerned tone, “I failed all of my classes in 9th grade.” Or, take IC, the instant leader in the classroom environment whose upbeat attitude and funny comments (note: if I were teaching, I would not have let him speak without first raising his hand) undeniably added cheer to our standardized test-reeking morning: I could not believe that he was the one who had scored a 30% on one section of the exam.
I think the lesson here is that no matter whom one meets in this world, there will always be inconsistencies beneath the surface that prevent one from gaining an accurate understanding of this person’s personality or background. Numbers or simple facts about someone can explain close to nothing. It is dangerous for one to believe that person ABC is type XYZ before one has interacted with that person on multiple occasions and in multiple contexts.