Really, how sensitive are our students? Does our behavior towards them actually make them more sensitive than they are? Are we babying our students?
This is a difficult topic for me because I see both sides of the argument. On one end of the spectrum we have the idea “don’t hurt any student’s feelings” and on the other side we have “completely inappropriate and harmful treatment of students”.
My first reaction would be to say, “Let’s find something in the middle!”, but where to draw the line is difficult and dependent on culture. I find myself getting frustrated not only while teaching in class, but also at the Young Life meetings I hold with high school students from the way I must always be sure I am not hurting anyone’s feelings. The way in which I am constantly monitored and conscientious of the words I use is undoubtedly a good thing. However, sometimes I feel like I am treating kids as babies. That I am trying to take every precautionary method to make sure I am not hurting anyone’s feelings or, God forbid, cause a student to be depressed, angry, or suicidal.
I am the first to say that teacher’s and adult’s words and actions have a huge impact on student lives. For example, through the years of research I have conducted on the causes of eating disorders, the main cause has revealed itself to be a traumatic childhood experience such as, a teacher calling a child ‘fat’ or a parent commenting on the appearance of a child. Eating disorders are just one facet of the negative outcomes from harsh-spoken words, and as we all know, there are so many more. From depression, to self-harm, to drug abuse, to bullying, to suicide, we have all heard the horror stories of students’ negatively impacted lives. So hear me in saying that teacher’s words and actions DO have an impact on student lives.
On the other hand, my point in talking about this topic is because I think we may be so fearful as a society to hurt the feelings of our young generation that we aren’t allowing them to fully become the people they were created to be. In this I mean constantly being careful to not hurt anyone’s feelings does not allow a student’s “social immune system” to grow. For example, I have been told in several of my education classes that using words such as: police officer, rather than policeman, mail person, rather than mailman, and firefighter, rather than fireman, will allow girls in the classroom to feel more included and/or less oppressed. I don’t know the research behind the use of this type language, but part of me thinks it may not matter in the long run when young girls become women in a male-dominated workforce.
However, maybe the point of using these words really isn’t to avoid hurting student’s feelings afterall. Maybe it is to raise up a generation that speaks equally of men and women, even if the girls using these terms aren’t necessarily offended by the male-orientation of them.
As one of my teachers once said, “Writing causes thought process” and here I am experiencing this. I wanted to blog about the frustrations I have about feeling like I am babying students, but now I feel like I see the overall importance of why this type of system was put in place. I think as a future teacher I need to not be focused on avoiding hurting my students’ feelings, but on how I can conduct myself and my classroom in a way that will exemplify to my students how to be a tolerant, caring, and justice seeking generation. Maybe it isn’t so much of me walking on eggshells around students, but desiring them to not grow up with the idea that our society has to be the way it is. If the use of the word police officer can cause my students to realize our workforce may be male dominated now, but that it doesn’t always have to be in the future, than I have done a good job as an educator.
I guess always seeking to avoid hurting feelings is not a good teaching tactic, but the use of inclusive language and actions that can grow our students into people who want the world to look like what they’ve experienced in class.