The Language of Perception

Nobody wants to look like a fool. It’s embarrassing to be seen as dumb or clumsy. Do we lose this insecurity as we grow older? In our teenage years it’s probably the thing that takes most of our time. We worry about what others will think about our clothes, our shoes, our hair, the car we drive, almost everything. The thing is, as we worry about what others are thinking of us, they are thinking the same thing. We are motivated to do things that we wouldn’t normally do because of what we perceive to be other peoples expectations.

What is Perception?

Perceptions are dangerous. We can see someone and based on how they’re dressed, what they are driving, how they carry themselves, we think something about them. We perceive them as successful, or smart, or poor. But are they really? We don’t ever have the whole story in front of us.

Perceptions are always assumptions. We assume things about someone based on how they look. We assume things about what someone is thinking when we don’t really know unless they tell us.

Perceptions are a problem because we have to observe situations and people around us. We are accustomed to observing people and guessing things about them. This isn’t necessarily bad when we get to know someone. If we really know someone, our perception, our observations could be totally accurate. If we get to know our coworker, or a fellow student, and we see by their facial expressions that they’re having a bad day, we can attempt to help them feel better. We view ourselves and others as good people who care about those around us. We know that we intend to help, or at least stay out of the way.

We’re All Human

As a teacher, I have observed my students and made assumptions about them. I have seen them behave, or misbehave in class. Some teachers might feel abused or offended by this behavior. Maybe these teachers even feel targeted by their students’ indifference to the lesson and assignment, like it’s a personal thing. It’s not usually very long after I have thought something about a student, that I find out what’s really going on at home. Maybe not everything is revealed, but enough is brought to light to make me feel like a jerk for thinking negatively about a student.

I like to think I give every student a fair chance in class, but I’m sure there are things that cause me to think or act unfairly toward students. I can only hope that I err on the side of the student more often than not. Not every student feels comfortable asking for help or extra time on assignments.

One student helped me to realize an aspect of the stress of school, and my perception of male students that I hadn’t thought of before. I had heard that some male students are being thought of as lazy. They are perceived as capable by parents and teachers, but they’re not doing the work because they don’t care, or they procrastinate. While that might be true to some extent, one student admitted that he “plays lazy” because he is afraid to perform to his true potential because he was afraid that he would be expected to sustain that grade level or GPA through the rest of his school experience. He knew he was capable of doing it, he just didn’t want to spend that much time doing it. Parents perceived one thing, while he was presenting something else.

The other side of that is the students perception of the energy that would be required to maintain a certain grade level or GPA. Is it really difficult to pass some classes? What is our students perception of us and the work we are having them do? Are our students really capable of doing the work we are asking them to do? We need to be sure that what we are presenting as important and critical to our class, really is important.

Communication is intricate and dangerous. I don’t mean dangerous like someone could die; well maybe death is possible. We don’t just rely on spoken language but body language and facial expressions as well. When we think we see something and guess a persons intentions, we are perceiving falsely. Young people in particular can have a hard time understanding what an adult is saying. A simple lack of experience can cause all kinds of problems.

An Example of Misperception and a Possible Fix

In school, a younger person might not have experience holding a conversation around an academic topic. In this particular instance, a student, Jane, was absent for a day. Now being back in school, Jane might feel lost and not know how to proceed with an assignment. Jane’s perception might be that the teacher expects her to know more than she does. Jane might be embarrassed because she wasn’t paying attention. Jane might be scared that things were covered the day she was sick. Jane’s perception is that somehow she is missing something that was probably already given to everyone else. Is she going to have the confidence to ask questions to fill in the gap that was created by her absence?

On the other hand, the teacher’s perception might be that Jane wasn’t paying attention, or already knows what need to be done. The teacher may or may not remember that Jane was sick and missed an important day. If the teacher remembers that Jane was absent, she might clarify what Jane remembers and what information she missed the day she was sick.

Jane has some responsibility to clarify what the assignment is about and ask for help.

The language of perception is challenging. Too often we are afraid to look dumb in front of other people. We want to be seen as successful and ‘with it’. We can’t control others thoughts or beliefs. We can only marginally impact how others perceive us. How do you dress? How do you style your hair? People make assumptions about you based on how you look. How do you want others to perceive you? Are you successful and confident? Do you dress that way? Do you want to be seen that way? Do you dress like you’re always ready to play basketball? How do you want to be perceived?

You and I are guilty of this kind of thinking. How do you perceive other people? What biases do you have about others? How we perceive others can impact how we treat others. How teachers or other adults perceive you can impact how they treat you. Most often this type of perception and treatment is unfair. A good teacher will take time to get to know students, and not make judgements about ability and intent until later when there is actual evidence of ability.

Let’s Fix It

So how do you manage your perceptions or how you perceive people? I can think of a couple of examples from my teaching experience. My most memorable experience with perception and expectation was when I taught 12 and 13 year olds in grade 7. I’m not super tall at 5’11”, but I did weigh a bit more than I should, and at the time I had a full beard which was almost all gray before I turned 40. I looked intimidating, but I didn’t really understand how intimidating I was until later in the year when students had become more comfortable with me and told me about their first few days in my class. They were respectful at the beginning of the year, which isn’t totally unusual. Everyone is nervous in those first days of school. Later I found out that they thought I was scary. They thought I would be mean, and strict, and unforgiving on their assignments. I just laughed with them. Our perceptions of others can really cause some anxiety.

So what? What does this have to do with me or my child now? Teachers are in the teaching profession to help students learn. Speaking from experience, some students ask for clarity or to understand, but don’t really want to know, or don’t plan on acting on what they are asking for. As a teacher, this can be frustrating. My perception of a student is tied to previous experiences with that student. I genuinely hope that each time a student asks a teacher for help, that that teacher responds seriously and with a helpful heart.

What you can do. Be specific and clear in your request for help. If you, or your student is asking for help or clarification, ask specific questions. Explain why you don’t understand. Honesty is always the best path. State the truth about who was distracting, or what didn’t make sense. Even if the teacher appears to be mean and scary, ask for what you need. If you can get written instructions for the assignment, that can help both teacher and student understand the end goal. Sometimes it might be appropriate to ask for help through email or other school instituted technology. That can work to include parents or others in the conversation.

Practice

Mr./Ms. –

I need some clarification on this assignment.
Can you please explain this to me again?
Are there written instructions somewhere that I can refer to later?
I’m not able to pay attention when I sit by _____________. Could he or I be moved, please?

Review

Perceptions are tricky. What we think we see or hear might not be right.
What our teacher or other adults see or hear might not be right. If more communication or clarification is needed, just ask. Let your student grow from this experience. Don’t take over because you want to protect him or her. Teachers aren’t mean people. They genuinely love the things that they teach and want to help others understand the information.

 

I hope this helped you out! Let me know in the comments.

I’m also available for questions and other motivational helps on Instagram and Facebooknametag.png

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