Monday, April 13, 2015

Monday Musings: Self-Respect and Teaching

I wonder what Eleanor Roosevelt would think of the current state of education in the United States.  From 1927 – 1938, she was a co-owner and teacher at the Todhunter School for Girls in New York City, where she taught courses in English and history.  (The school later merged with the Dalton School.)  From what I read online about her work there, she strived to develop her students’ critical thinking skills.  I was not aware that Eleanor Roosevelt had been a teacher and I highly doubt she would have been a fan of standardized testing.
Image of Eleanor Roosevelt in 1961
Eleanor Roosevelt; source: NARA
As a historically feminine occupation in the U.S., it is therefore not surprising that the profession suffers from low esteem by the public.  What is more surprising, however, is that teachers themselves buy into that perception.  That’s why the quotation above is meaningful to me.  If you believe, actively or subconsciously, that you are not worthy, then other people will treat you as if you aren’t.  

I remember writing a paper in graduate school about something to do with education.  I don’t remember the actual topic but I recall writing something along the lines of:  If I don’t respect myself and I think of myself as “just” a teacher, why should I expect anyone else to give me respect?  The professor, who was nationally known in the field of TESL (Teaching ESL), specifically noted that comment in his feedback.  Ever since then, I have never referred to myself as "just" a teacher.

Similarly, some ELLs feel they are not good people because they get low grades and have a hard time understanding what is going on in class.  I have even had students tell me they wish they weren’t bilingual because then they would do better in school.  I tell the kids that grades have nothing to do with the kind of person they really are and just because they get a low grade, that doesn’t mean they are unworthy or inferior to other students.  I tell them that ELLs have many strengths that other people don’t have and that being bilingual is an asset and something to be proud of, not ashamed.  If I were still in the classroom, I would make a poster of Eleanor Roosevelt’s quotation and hang it at the front of the room for everyone to see every day!

On a related note, there is a campaign underway to put a woman's face on the U.S.$20 bill, replacing that of Andrew Jackson.  I don't know if it will actually come to pass but Eleanor Roosevelt is one of the four women under consideration and the public is invited to vote on whom they would like to see on the note.  The other women under consideration are Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, and Wilma Mankiller.  You can find their biographies and submit your vote HERE.  I don't know what the deadline is but if you are interested in voting, sooner is probably better than later.