Yesterday I was reminded that I teach middle school students. Which means that as much as I would like for them to own their identities, the process has only just begun.
I watch them and I want so much for them. I want them to see themselves in college, successful, fulfilled with a career that makes them happy. I want them to want to change the world. I want them to understand and be able to articulate what it means to be Black in this country. And because I want this so bad, I often lose sight of what they want.
This is where we bump heads.
I want them to use their potential, and they want to be understood. I want them to achieve goals I think they should have, and they want to fit in and find themselves. I want them to skip over every hard lesson they may meet, which is ludicrous because it is those same lessons that will develop and shape their character.
They want to be kids, and in the current climate of our society this often means they want to emulate what they see and whom they look up to.
Yesterday, I thought a lot about what my students see. From the way their teachers, parents, neighbors interact; to the images and messages found on social media.
I also thought a lot about the assumptions I make with my students daily. I assume that as a Black Woman they will heed my advice without question. I assume that they will see me as credible when I pontificate about the real world, being their best selves, and perseverance. I assume they look up to me.
These are way too many assumptions. Far more than I am comfortable with.
There is a well known saying about assumptions:
“When you assume you make an ass out of me and you.”
Basically, I am walking around making an ass of myself daily, which is probably true for many of us. I say this because assumption is everywhere we go. From the things we buy, to the things we say and do.
I believe we have a responsibility to be aware of the assumptions we make, and to be aware that others will make assumptions about who we are and how we live our lives. I also believe that just because you have an assumption doesn’t mean that you’re bad or wrong; this is not where we fail. We fail when we aren’t capable of acknowledging our underlying bias.
As an educator, my assumptions detector must be on at all times. I must constantly reflect on what I am projecting onto my students. Every struggle is individual and real. It’s hard for me to sit back and watch my students make bad decisions, and to face some of the challenges they face. I want to fix it. I assume they need or want my help.
A balance must be struck. On one had, I will always teach and show my students kindness, because I assume that they want these things. On the other hand, I have to respect who and where they are, because I assume that I can’t truly understand their path unless I walk in there shoes.
This is the most equitable way.
But that is just my assumption.