Sometimes, stereotypes find their way into the classroom. We pretend this doesn’t happen, but it does. Often, we hold preconceived ideas about our students, the homes they come from, and the activities that fill out-of-school time.
I know this statement to be true because before I taught on the Navajo Reservation, I thought I knew a great deal about the Navajo people.
Ten minutes before I stepped on Reservation soil, I stopped at a gas station close to my new school.
Whispering voices and tiny footsteps shuffled and followed me out of the building and towards my car. I looked over my shoulder and saw four, young boys.
One set of dirty sneakers kicked rocks. The others stood in a cluster. All stared at the ground.
“We heard you were coming.”
A young, white female with an Illinois, license plate, and a car packed to the roof with belongings. I wasn’t hard to spot.
More rock kicking.
I nodded. I bet they heard. I heard about them too. I heard many refused their culture and dismissed their history. I heard their parents drank anything containing alcohol, even hairspray. I heard little joy resounded in such an empty place. I heard education held minimal value here.
“My mom bought me a shirt to wear on the first day. It says Reebok. You can see it at school.”
The rock kicking stopped as four sets of dark, brown eyes glanced up.
Could a fifteen-second conversation about a new, Reebok shirt challenge everything I heard? Maybe. Maybe now I would do more than hear. Maybe now I’d rely less on stereotypes and just start to learn.
Can you think of a time when a relationship with one of your students pushed you to see beyond the stereotypes?
-Amy teaches Special Education and blogs at Amy L. Sullivan