Our Biases and Prejudices: The Baggage We Carry

A few weeks ago, I had the great fortune of seeing one of my favorite bands live in concert.  Slipknot played the XFinity Theater in Hartford, CT.  A few metal bands opened for them.  While I hadn’t been to a metal show in quite a while, it was fun to get back to the scene I used to live in back in my college days.  My friend and I have seen Slipknot four times.  

The mteal scene is a bit different than most other music scenes.  The fans tend to come across as angry and aggressive.  There is also a lot of drug use and drinking associated with heavy metal music.  While I partake in none of this and never had, some fans do go to metal shows to drink to excess and make other unsavory choices.  This usually means that metal shows can get a bit crazy.  I was at a Korn concert once when an ambulance had to be driven onto the floor of the Worcester, MA civic center to take out a young girl who had been trampled and crushed in a mosh pit.  I’ve also seen plenty of bloody noses and broken bones happen in mosh pits at metal shows.  Due to these incidents, the media generally portrays heavy metal music as being the cause for illicit and bad behavior.  “Metal music makes people hurt others and commit illegal acts.”  Of course, music doesn’t do anything on its own.  People do bad things.  I’ve been listening to heavy metal music for years and haven’t killed anyone or committed any horrific crimanl acts.  Most people who listen to metal music fall into this same category with me.  However, because some people who have done really bad things have at one time listened to heavy metal music, it gets a bad reputation.  A lot of people think of metal music as angry men shouting and screaming about killing and death.  This bias is far from the truth.  Most of Slipknot’s songs are about standing up for yourself and not allowing people to take advantage of you.  Other metal bands sing about similar topics as well.  

Like I wish mainstream America would do regarding metal music, we as teachers need to be sure we leave our prejudces and biases at the door.  We can’t allow our potentially untrue thoughts or ideas to enter the classroom.  We need to treat all students the way they need and deserve to be treated.  We can’t assume that if students don’t bring a lunch to school that they are poor and come from a broken home.  We shouldn’t jump to conclusions when students lash out in the classroom.  We need to look at each situation and issue in the classroom with a fresh perspective.  We can’t be clouded by what we think we know.  We need to take treat our students like wrapped presents.  We don’t know what’s inside and we can’t just shake it or judge it by its shape to figure out what’s inside.  We need to work together with the students to allow what’s inside to be revealed in time, without judgement.  

Watching a mosh pit at the Slipknot concert, I noticed something that most Americans don’t care to understand about the metal scene.  When guys got knocked over, everyone stopped, helped that person get up, and checked to be sure he was okay before continuing to mosh again.  Metal fans may look different than country music or T-Swift fans, but we’re mostly all the same inside: Compassionate and kind-hearted souls trying to find our place in the world.  So, let’s be open to all types of music fans and students.  Just because students dress in all black doesn’t mean that they worship the devil or use drugs.  It just means they are trying to figure out who they are and who they can trust in the world.  Don’t judge your students and they won’t judge you.

Student Residue: What Our Students Leave Behind

On my short journey home following a trip to Target recently, hunger caused me to stop at Burger King.  After having some bad experiences at Drive-Thru windows, I’m a go-inside kind of guy.  So, I parked, and walked inside as the late afternoon sun beat down upon my balding head.  Despite not knowing entirely what I wanted to order, I stepped up to the counter.  As I started to order, the counter worker who couldn’thave  been much older than 20, asked me, “Do you do that thing with your fingers often when you think?”  I was of course caught off-guard by her direct question.  But then I realized to what she was referring.  Without realizing it, I will often tap my fingers to my thmb in quick succession.  While I generally do it to calm myself, I also do it while thinking without even noticing.  This was one of those moments.  So, I quickly addressed her question and told her how this strange behavior came to fruition.

A few years ago, a student in my class did the same thing.  He would touch his fingers to his thumb.  He did it while thinking, talking, or working.  It seemed very strange to me.  While I never asked him about it, I realized that it was a coping mechanism he clearly learned to keep him focused and calm.  Over the course of the year, I found myself picking up this behavior.  I now find myself doing it a lot.  It keeps me calm and focused while thinking.  Had this student not been in my class, I probably would not have added this strange behavior to my repertoire.  Is this good or bad?  Well, I suppose it’s better than the shaky leg thing I used to do.  My wife hates when I do that.  “Stop shaking the house,” she’ll say.  This doesn’t seem to annoy or irritate anybody.  So, I guess, this adaptation has helped me.  So, thanks, Charlie, for infecting me with your weird behavior.  I love it.

Our students teach us many things on a daily basis.  Occasionally, though, they leave something behind within us.  Perhaps it might be a word, phrase, or in this case a behavior.  Not only does it continue to remind us of them, but it also reminds us how important our students are to us.  Teaching isn’t a profession or job, it’s a lifestyle.  We teach to learn more.  I love engaging my students in conversation to learn about their lives, where they’re from, and what they know.  It’s amazing how awesome our students are.  Sometimes I wonder who the “real” teacher is, me or them?