Editor's Note: Today's Pre-Service Perspective piece was written by Taylor Ewy
“Please tuck in your shirt,” I whispered low with a smile so only the student would hear. I assumed I was doing her a favor, saving her from having to be stopped by another teacher or possibly even sent to the office. I remember in my Catholic high school tucking my white oxford straight into the pleated green and blue plaid without any blousing to avoid the dreaded veteran P.E. teacher at the end of the lunch line. He was always ready with the “pink slips”, which were basically demerit slips on speed dial. Every teacher had them, but this teacher gave them out so readily that they were pre-signed with a stamp of his signature. When you got a pink slip from this teacher, the whole hallway knew it. His voice carried and he was about making sure everyone knew it was happening. Humiliating. An unforgettable experience. It happened to me twice my entire high school career and both times my skin was inflamed with embarrassment for the next hour, my makeup basically melted off from the heat in my face. I didn’t want that for this girl, though I’m sure there’s no one like the old P.E. teacher where I am now. So I bent down to her level to whisper while the teacher was instructing, “Please tuck in your shirt.”
“I’m not allowed to,” she whispered quickly, shifting her eyes. “What?” I said a slightly louder, seriously confused. “I’m not allowed to!” she whispered urgently, her eyes wide. This was obviously embarrassing her, so I nodded knowingly and walked away. I couldn’t figure it out, but later, after confirming it with my mentor teacher, I learned she was not allowed to tuck in her long sleeve shirt for religious reasons. I felt like I just became the old P.E. teacher because though I was whispering, her eyes looked at me like I was shouting.
The next day I walked over to another student who was sitting during the Pledge of Allegiance. “Next time, let’s be sure to stand up all together,” I whispered, again with a smile. “I’m not allowed to,” he whispered back. I must have let a quizzical look slide because he quickly followed with, “My family is Jehovah Witness.” “Ah,” I said as I walked away. Second day in a row, assuming and losing.
Third day! I’m prepared to be unassuming. One student starts joking about Justin Bieber, referencing rumors that a few others chimed in hearing about. “Let’s focus on our article,” I offered, but the conversation picked back up again less than a minute later. “Does it really matter? It is none of your business. Let’s enjoy his music” (one of his new songs was playing softly in the background). “It matters,” said one student, “because it’s against Jesus.” I am just about offending everyone this week.
My K-12 education was Roman Catholic, being in one building for K-8 and then meeting my 250 graduating class for high school in the same school my parents went to. I was taught by several sweet sisters (different than nuns, by the way) and knew that what I believed everyone else in the room also believed, or at least was taught to. I could make assumptions about my classmates. For many reasons, I am not able to make nearly that many assumptions with my students this year.
Religious diversity has been the first hiccup of my Core III experience. Though the situations I shared weren't that bad, I knew I had personally made an assumption that everyone was the same and was caught off guard when it wasn’t the case. I think I handled each situation well, but not being prepared for these moments was a slight failure on my part. My next step is to walk into the classroom without too many assumptions about my students beyond they all can learn and what I am sure of because of records. If I make the wrong assumption about a student, I hope that I won’t let on that I am surprised or confused so I don’t embarrass them. I had to go look up after class about why Jehovah Witness believers do not stand for the Pledge - I wish I had known that earlier so the student didn’t see that brief look of confusion on my face.
As this week comes to an end, I look forward to growing more in my relationships with the various students as I get to know more about them. I’m prepared for many more hiccups, but I’m also prepared to keep moving forward with what resources and knowledge I have available.
Keep up the good work, my friends!
x Mrs. Ewy