By: Saron Tekie
“Wow! Of course it’s not surprising that you didn’t do your homework or bring your books”, the after school program coordinator yelled at Robert*. I could see in the shame in Robert’s face as he rapidly put his head down. I proceeded to quietly ask him what was wrong and the look of helplessness remained on his face. He then revealed that he does not have a place he can call home because he’s constantly transitioning between residences due to familial circumstances. Constantly on the go, Robert’s personal life is extremely distracting, most particularly being responsible for his younger siblings. Such distractions contribute to his inability to keep track of his school materials, which ultimately has an effect on his overall academic life. By shunning his failure, we present him as an inferior being and remove his personal sense of dignity by publicly humiliating him. However, what was never acknowledged was that after school program is optional. Publicly punishing Robert criminalizes him in that such punishment is used to make an example of him rather than encourage progression. Rather than shaming Robert for his downfall, the proper approach would be to aid him by showing positivity for his decision to get assistance and helping him become less forgetful with his school supplies.
While helping students like Robert, I sometimes think, “Why don’t you get it?” However, I’ve noticed that such frustration generated from working with unmotivated students is a reflection of our natural selfishness as a community. We should not think of ourselves and our own annoyances when helping students. Students who don’t perform well “bother” us because we compare their actions to how we would go about our education. We gravitate towards selfishly investing more time in students who do well and less time in those who are in the most need because we fail to recognize that helping students is not about us. We are also failing in making the most needy our priority because we are too occupied in comparing their failures to our successes. The tendency of attributing academic failure to personal failing stigmatizes dependence by making students less inclined to ask for help because they are seen as weak. Instead of thinking “If I/they could understand it, why can’t you?” we should work towards manifesting our frustration in the form of compassion to correct failure when we see it.
I noticed that such compassion can be best facilitated by the emergence of transparency within classrooms. As a tutor, I plan to better work towards encouraging students to “tell their truths” while also telling mine. I’ve learned the importance of sharing my life with students because it encourages them to do the same. A “truth seeking” approach may change the environment of ACC in that it would allow teachers to better understand students but also allow students to better understand each other. Thus far, my placement has taught me and continues to teach me that that sharing realities in the classroom can help us all realize that our worlds are a lot more similar than we think.