katie woman

Ms. Perception

It’s mid-July, registration for a new school year is well under way, and the Facebook messages start to pour in. “Hey, have you had ___? How is she like?” And often times the responses: “He hates students.” “Her class is an easy A.” “He doesn’t teach.” “Be sure to get on her good side.” More likely than not, you’ve seen these messages. Maybe you’ve sent them. Or maybe you’ve hopped onto a site like RateMyTeacher, just to scope things out before the year starts. Better to be prepared, right?

The end result is that on the first day of school, many of us enter our classes carrying more mental baggage than just the bleariness of having woken up too early: we carry with us the often negative presumptions that come with the prejudgments we’ve made about our teachers. We can’t help but be constantly reminded of the opinions we heard from those friends or that we read in those web reviews. This information clouds our interactions and influences our attitudes towards our classes. Maybe it’s time to ask whether this practice of doing our homework on our teachers beforehand is really beneficial for ourselves as students.

It’s easier than ever to get information to aid in our decision-making. Faced with a plaza of restaurants to choose from, we turn to Yelp to read which places other people liked, which dishes to order and which to avoid, how the service is. Confronted with endless options for products, from phones to backpacks to apps, we turn to the equally countless Amazon reviews and App Store ratings to battle the plethora of choices and make an assessment about what to spend our precious money on. Even before the Internet became as pervasive as it is today, consumers relied on published reviews and the words of critics to choose what books to read or shows to watch.

But here’s the thing: our teachers aren’t restaurants or apps or books. They’re people. They’re not here to simply serve you a meal or to fulfill a specific one-time purpose and then be shelved away. They’re here to facilitate education, and being taught by a teacher is a far more complex and involved process than consuming a food or product. To treat teachers as though they provide a simple good or service is to dehumanize them, flatten them, and turn the classroom into nothing more than a product to be judged and compared. The learning process is more than just a simple transaction — it is a relationship between student and teacher, a yearlong, mutual agreement to work together towards a shared goal.

We cannot simply walk into a classroom, sit down and expect to be served knowledge. Education is not only the job of the teacher but also the responsibility of the student. In order to be effective learners, we must be active participants in our own learning. We must question, we must be open, we must challenge, and — as one of my teachers once said — we must fight for understanding.

Pre-evaluating teachers takes the student largely out of the equation and focuses on the teacher’s role. It removes the “YOU” component — that unique perspective that you, and only you, can bring into the classroom. Every individual is different, and the ways in which they perceive, interact, and learn differ. The person who is hated by one is the same person who is loved by another; it’s all a matter of perspective, and your perspective is the only one that can determine the experience you have.

So while this school year may be already well under way, it isn’t too late to step back and consider whether you’re bringing too much unnecessary mental baggage into the classroom. Maybe some teachers just won’t fit you, and maybe some teachers just won’t work well with you, but drop those presumptions and leave behind those expectations and maybe — just maybe — you’ll discover someone amazing.

By James Li, Staff writer

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