Thursday, August 25, 2011

It's All About Perception

Yesterday, Braden capped out his detailing of the events of his fifth day of 4th grade with the statement, "And tomorrow Ms. Allen expects us to read literature and I just don't think I'm going to like it."

Alarmed by his sudden dislike of reading, I inquired further.  "But you read literature all of the time.  Why don't you think you're going to like it?"

"Mom, I read fantasy and adventure and magazines about skateboarding and "National Geographic" and "Boys Life."  I have never read literature and I don't know why Ms. Allen wants to change that."

"Braden, all of the things you mentioned are literature.  Harry Potter.  Greek Mythology.  Magazines.  It's all literature.  All written word is literature, even the ones you don't enjoy reading."

Silence flooded the backseat of the car.  And after a pregnant pause, Braden grumbled "well I don't know why Ms. Allen has to be so fancy.  She nearly ruined reading for me forever."

Braden (who obviously gets his flare for the dramatic from his Aunt Tessa) reminded me of something we educators--or people in general for that matter--often forget:  A perception of a thing is often more powerful than the thing itself.

Braden is no stranger to literary discourse.  Currently on book six of the Harry Potter series, he constantly reviews chapters with me, applauding Rowling's ability to set life to his imagination.  He questions me about my current reads and knows that I read for both pleasure and academic enrichment.  Books are part of my core; books are part of his core.  Yet one word--and his perception and his teacher's presumption--caused him to momentarily amend that core.

How many times during my fourteen years in the classroom have I done the same thing?  Have I ever, unknowingly, shaped a student's perception of literature in a negative manner?  And if I have, did he have someone at home with whom he could he discuss his concerns--someone who would reassure him that his perception was okay?  Or did he have the courage to come to me, his teacher, and seek further clarification about my meaning and intent?

Thanks to Braden and Ms. Allen, I have a new perception of perceptions.  And so today, and tomorrow, and every day to come in the classroom, I will create an environment where perceptions elicit positivity.

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