Personal Identity and Teacher Identity

It’s the beginning of a new school year, which means I should probably start blogging again!

A topic we talked about in one of our classes this week is whether or not personal identity and teacher identity should be separated or combined.  On one hand, you can’t change who you are, and on the other, certain aspects like language, casual drinking, etc. need to be separate from school.  I remember thinking it was so strange to see a teacher outside of class when I was in elementary school and high school.  Why did I think this way?  Did I think that teachers did not leave their houses or leave the school?  I think this is because I mainly only got to see their teacher identities, opposed to their personal identities.  So when teachers go out in public, they have to be conscious about how they are acting and thinking.  I have a friend that was doing her internship last year and she was always worried about how she was acting because she saw her students everywhere.  So where do you draw the line when it comes to your personal identity intertwining with your teacher identity?

In an article called, “Sense of Self: Embracing your Teacher Identity” by Carrie Donavon, she mentions, “we employ many of the techniques of actors, but in order to be most effective, our teaching must not be artificial”.  I’m not sure if I agree with a comparison to actors because they are the masters of making people believe anything based on their ability to act out an imaginary situation.  In this way, it it seems that by being an actor, we have to be someone we’re not–someone artificial.  But, as the quote says, we also have to not be artificial.  The standards of how a teacher should look and act is definitely a bump in the discussion of if our two identities should mesh, based on this point.  Especially as a new teacher, educators are very conscious about how they are portraying themselves, and they may forget to bring in their own personal qualities into the classroom because they are trying to become the “perfect teacher” and they are trying to avoid conflict.

The activities outside of work are another thing.  Obviously, teachers should not be heavily drinking or swearing in public, but are there other things that we need to avoid doing? Based on the stories I’ve heard about teachers going out in public, they have to go to extreme measures to even have a casual drink.  Do we need to avoid going out in public in fear of our words becoming misconstrued or our decisions looked down upon?  If a teacher goes out with his/her child and a parent of one of his/her students disagrees with their parenting style, will that affect their professional image?  I feel like every personal glimpse into a teacher’s life seems like the end of the world and that is strange to me.  Obviously, teachers are humans, too.  They have personal lives and a life in the classroom.

What do you think about this issue about separating teacher identity and personal identity?  Do you think they should be completely separate or have a healthy balance of the two?

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How Stories Shape Our Lives

Part one of my ECS 210 assignment was to summarize 10 articles in “The New Teacher Book” and part two was to critically respond to the resonances and the dissonances in one or more articles.

Part One 

Part Two:

I chose to reflect on the article called, “Brown Kids Can’t Be in Our Club” by Rita Tenorio.  As a child, I was raised around people of all colours, including my own family.  One side of my family is mainly Aboriginal, another side is mainly white, my neighbours were Chinese, and a few of our family friends were Jamaican.  I realized, through this article, that a lot of children were not exposed to as many diverse people as I was.  The article says that, “we have to acknowledge that we live in a racist society and that children typically mirror the attitudes of that society”.   Although a lot has changed from when our parents were kids, people that are my age still tend to be racist, so I hope that through anti oppressive teaching, the next generation will be even more accepting of differences.

Reflecting back on my schooling in elementary school, I realized that we never really did talk about race and differences.  We learned about First Nations history, but we did not recognize physical differences between the classroom and the larger community.  I feel like education was more about creating a classroom where everyone was seen the same and treated the same.  Now, we are focusing more on how we are different and why we think that way.  I think a classroom that encourages diversity is way more effective than thinking that everyone is the same because none of us are the same.  We have different family lives, different skin colours, different hobbies, different learning abilities, etc.  The list goes on!  Whenever I had to draw a character in elementary school, I would always colour them peach.  I even referred to this pencil crayon as the “skin-coloured” one.  I find this quite interesting since I am far away from being “peach” coloured.  Even when I was in the older grades of elementary school, I still drew white characters and wrote about white characters.  If we learned about our differences in the classroom, I might have drawn a Native American person or an African American person.  My dad refers to me as “Heinz 57” because I have so many different layers of culture and race; I am Aboriginal, Ukrainian, French, Scottish (I think) and so many more that I can’t keep track of.  Most of us today do not identify as one thing because we have so many different components of ourselves.

We watched this video in ECE 325 the other day and I think it is very relevant to what I’m talking about in this blog post.  It brings these anti oppressive ideas into action.  They compare skin colour and hair textures, they have conversations about different races and they build a tolerance to all people.  The part that I really liked was when the teacher showed her students pictures of animals dressed up as Native Americans and actual pictures of Native Americans.  The students were able to pick out the stereotypical attributes in the animals, like the fact that not all Native Americans wear feathers on their heads.

One of the activities the children did in this article was first to put their hands onto the table to recognize the different colours of the students.  Later on, they would mix paints together to try and match their own skin colours.  A student in this article said, “We put black, white, red and yellow [together].  I like the colour of my skin”.  After reading this activity, I decided to try and do the same with my skin colour.  I used five coloured pencil crayons: Arizona Topaz, Roan Red, Soft Peach, Cotton White and Chestnut.  I was amazed at how many colours I had to use in order to somewhat match my own skin colour.  As mentioned before, if I ever had to draw myself, I would automatically take out the peach-coloured pencil crayon.  I find the fact that some people refer to themselves as pink, brown or black is quite interesting now that I have read this article because based on the experiences written in the article and on my own experience, we are not all one colour.  Even people from the same racial groups have different colours because we are not all the same.

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A “bump” that I thought of while reading this is the content in an anti bias classroom may challenge the beliefs of families.  I know of a lot of parents that are still not accepting of different races and sexualities, especially the parents of the children of my generation.  I feel like they have these old fashioned ideals from when they were younger and it is definitely hard to try and make them see and appreciate how far we have come with the acceptance and encouragement of all people.  Some of us may have been influenced by our parents to think in these oppressive ways.  I think the problem I would have is how to approach a family that has such different views from you.  Both parties would have completely opposing views and you cannot just compromise on issues of racism and sexism.  I do not want to force my ways onto these families, but at the same time, I want to build this anti oppressive classroom where everyone is on the same page.  This may be an unrealistic dream because there will be some opposed to the ways I want to structure my classroom.

Another thing that conflicts me is the fact that not all schools receive as much support as this one does.  In the article, “Unwrapping the Holidays: Reflections on a Difficult First Year”, the teacher felt like an outsider because he tried to change the ways in how the school decorates for Christmas because not all students celebrate Christmas.  A lot of staff members were angered by this and thus did not support or encourage this individual.  This is all because people today are very sensitive about their traditional and usual ways of doing things.  In order to feel comfortable with teaching controversial issues and collaborating with others, you need to build a support system of educators.  Without this, you may feel alone and terrified to create an anti oppressive classroom and curriculum.  I’m scared that I would get hired in a school with educators that did not support my ideas or without anyone to talk to for advice, especially as a first year teacher.

In conclusion, I think that including issues of race and recognizing differences is very important to have in a classroom.  These children will grow up with different ways of thinking and will be able to recognize why everyone is different.  I think it is also beneficial for adults to educate themselves on anti oppressive teaching because it has been very valuable learning to me and several of my classmates.  In the video I posted above, there was a scene where a child asked what was wrong with a woman that was in a wheelchair.  The mother quickly apologized and ran off.  I think this is a perfect example of how not educating children on differences can result in these awkward moments.  The mother could have, instead, explained to her daughter why wheelchairs are needed or maybe the woman in the wheelchair would have been okay with explaining what happened.  Having conversations with children about differences will encourage acceptance and will open their eyes to the fact that our differences are what make us unique.