Ed Blog pt. 24: 5 Things in 5 Days - There's Always a Flip-side (Day 1)

One thing we forget, so often, is that there's always a flip-side.   When you think one way, someone else thinks another.  Experience and culture play a significant role in how and what we believe.  We bring this (our culture and beliefs) with us wherever we go, and it impacts us. 

People that hunt have a very different feeling about guns than people that have had a family member murdered by gun violence.  

As you read Ed Blog, pt. 24: 5 Things in 5 Days, keep the following example in mind, and it will help you understand where I'm coming from: My brother and I have both been told we slam car doors*.    

On separate occasions, in separate states, we've had multiple people complain about the way we exit a car.  Apparently, in the opinion of others, we close doors too hard.  We slam the door.  When we've stepped out of an uber or friend's car, they've given us a look like, What are you doing? 

Our response: making sure your door is shut. 

We grew up in the same house, with the same parents.  We were always told to make sure the car door was shut.  Nearly every time we got out of a car, we were asked this question: did you make sure the door was shut?  It was a big deal.  If a door wasn't shut, the interior light would be left on and the car battery could die.  This could result in being late or missing an appointment.  Making sure a door was closed properly was important, leaving it ajar was a problem; so, for us, it was better to close a door with a little extra force than it was to leave it open.  'Slamming' was much preferred to not closing the door properly.  Thus, through reinforcement, we err on the side of 'too hard' because a 'soft' close could inconvenience someone. 

But even the terms 'slam' and 'soft' in this context need definition.  I would define 'slam' as an intentional act that uses excessive, intentional force.  And I certainly don't do that.  I simply make sure the door is closed, which - apparently - others consider slamming.  The culture we grew up with goes directly against the culture that other people grew up with, which leads to different values and definitions.  

This matters.

This extends to every area of life - and teaching.  The important thing is to have a dialogue about the issues at hand, and listen to people that think differently than you do.  If you don't, you judge them as insufficient, when really you are simply unaware of their starting point.  Stopping conversations before they start, or worse - judging before you discuss, leads to problems and barriers that need not exist. 

Why this matters is that things that are normal to you could be an inconvenience to others.  Things you naturally bring to the table, may be insulting others, and knowing this, and acknowledging this can save a lot of time and pain.  For instance:

  • Some people view sarcasm as a form of humor; others view it as a lie.
  • Some people say, "If you're on time, you're late"; others think being 10-minutes 'late' is on time - and curteous.  
  • Some people think wearing a hat in a building is extremely disrespectful; others consider a hat a big part of an outfit and fashion.  
  • Some people think saying what's on your mind is helpful and honest; others think it is blunt and disrespectful.  

Wherever you stand on any of these types of issues, you must remember that other people think differently because of their culture.  If we could go to understand instead of judge, we'd all get along better, and our classes would benefit.  

I worked at a school that had students from 80 different countries.  One evening a year, they'd have an International Night that highlighted the different cultures of students.  Each culture would put on a show of some kind, highlighting celebrations in their home countries.  Some people would bring food, and most would dress in the clothing of their home country.  The night was always great.  When I'd come to school the next day, I had such a bigger, better understanding of the students in my class and teachers in the building.  It opened me.  That's what diversity does.  

Ways that this really effects someone, though, is when you don't have common terms and language, you can get into very unhelpful situations.  Two examples:

  1. One principal I had thought his job was to listen to any parent, any time.  This meant a parent could have a 'conflict' with a teacher, run from the teacher's room, and talk directly with the principal.  They could be angry and ranting, and do so to the person at the top of the power structure.  This helped no one.  It also made the angry parent's narrative the starting point, rather than the actual thing/event/occurrence.  Often, when a follow up meeting would occur, after the parent had calmed down, the parent realized the incident was simply a misunderstanding.  It was errant information from an adolescent, and the actual problem was fixed easily.  The problem was the principal.  His belief that everyone needed to be heard, immediately and with emotion, caused a lot of problems in his school.  He then judged his teachers based upon what he heard through angry responses of parents.  His 'culture' told him you had to hear people out.  Several others, though, mine included, says you don't speak in anger.  You wait it out, and talk when cooler heads prevail.  This led to a lot of problems that need never have happened.  
  2. I heard of a place that accepts students anytime.  So if they walk in, they can be enrolled.  One teacher signs up anyone for any class, at any time.  She does this because she thinks it is helpful.  One of her coworkers - working in a different program, at a different location - asks that any student seeking enrollment in his class, after class hours, be referred to the next class period.  He does this because he prefers enrolling the students himself.  The coworker doesn't honor this request, and continually enrolls students at any time.  She does this because she cannot turn people away.  Her personal culture leads her to believe that 'denying' a person entrance in the immediate present denies their access to future education.  In the other teacher's mind, this couldn't be further form the truth.  The other teacher prefers to enroll students himself, because it allows him to get to know the students, show them the process of class, and make sure they're registered according to the classes process and routine.  So, she judges him as unhelpful, never asking why he prefers this method.  In her mind, he's being rude; in his mind, the way she does it is unhelpful.  With no dialogue, people slip through the cracks.

These situations can be difficult, because they come with tension.  This is tension, though, we must live with.  You don't have to agree with someone to respect the fact that they have an opinion, and come with their own prior thoughts and beliefs.  We all do.  Keeping this in mind will help us educate all students.  It will also broaden our understanding of what school is. 

Just remember, there is always a flip-side.