Teacher Disclosure in the Classroom: Part 2

sequenzia-photoToday’s blogger is Ms. Maria Sequenzia, a teacher of Social Studies at Framingham High School. Read her full article, “Working the Dialectic: Teaching and Learning Teacher Research in Social Studies” (coauthored by Dr. Christopher Martell), in The Educational Forum.

As I described in the first part of this blog series, I embarked on a teacher research project to examine students’ perceptions of teacher disclosure in their classes.

I initially asked students about their experience of teacher disclosure with their current teacher—i.e., me. I asked it almost as a baseline; I knew I didn’t disclose much, and especially not regarding topics like abortion and the death penalty, which I asked about specifically in the survey. To my astonishment and consternation, about 40% of students thought I disclosed my personal opinion about these topics, alongside other, more curricularly relevant ones.

As I began to interview students about this specific finding, I realized that the underlying issue was that they couldn’t accurately determine disclosure. In other words, they had difficulty distinguishing between my general discussion of a topic and my opinion of it. For example, when I mentioned that soldiers during WWII were often lonely, one student I interviewed explained to me that that was me disclosing my opinion because it had to do with feelings.

One of the fundamental aspects of teaching history is how teachers communicate information and how students engage with and comprehend that information. It is vitally important that classrooms aren’t just spaces for indoctrination. But at the same time, to “objectively” present information is still presenting a certain perspective—all too often, a white-washed, androcentric, heteronormative one.

This conundrum takes center stage right now, as campaign season kicks into high gear and we confront the challenge of teaching about an election wholly unlike any other.

Now, this issue of teacher disclosure becomes important in a different way—it’s not just about our opinions of certain candidates and their positions. Added to that great challenge is how to answer questions that resonate with students on a more personal level.

How do teachers respond when students ask them how they feel about deportation, and the teachers know they have undocumented students in the class? What about questions surrounding marriage equality, when teachers know they have gay students in the class? For many of us, these are issues of basic human rights. But that’s our belief, our opinion—and some students and parents may disagree strongly.

I wish I had more concrete answers, but as with much of our job, they’re hard to find. My biggest takeaway from this study, and what I’ve been trying to keep in the back of my mind since I conducted it, is to be aware. Be aware of the students in my classes, their reactions to what I say, what word choices I make, what topics I present as “fact,” and what topics I present as “perspective.”

And perhaps most importantly, be aware that even if I think I know how students received a piece of information from me, I don’t—not until they’ve really made their thinking visible, so that we can start to have a more nuanced and thoughtful conversation.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share Ms. Sequenzia and Dr. Martell’s article free with the education community through October 31, 2016. Read the full article here.

 

 

Teacher Disclosure in the Classroom: Part 1

sequenzia-photoToday’s blogger is Ms. Maria Sequenzia, a teacher of Social Studies at Framingham High School. Read her full article, “Working the Dialectic: Teaching and Learning Teacher Research in Social Studies” (coauthored by Dr. Christopher Martell), in The Educational Forum.

Teaching high school history means being prepared for questions about my opinion on any number of topics, from the merits of imperialism to the effectiveness of Reaganomics to Deflategate.

I love that aspect of my job; I feel it’s my responsibility to create an environment in which students feel comfortable and engaged enough to ask these questions.

But that doesn’t mean it’s always easy to know how to answer them.

Teachers walk a fine line between the public and the private; the very essence of our job is performed entirely in front of an audience, yet we’re supposed to be objective disseminators of information, teaching skills and facts.

This situation becomes even more complicated when students ask questions about how we feel, and what we think. I thought about this issue often, but it wasn’t until I took a course on teacher research that I had the opportunity to examine it in a more deliberate way. Simply put, teacher research is about teachers reflecting on, studying, and modifying their classroom practice. Effective teachers do this already; teacher researchers do it in a more systematic way. The course was designed around research questions that we would generate and then study in our own classrooms.

With the aforementioned issues weighing on me, I decided to examine students’ perceptions of teacher disclosure (i.e., how much of one’s personal opinion is shared) in class. This is a tricky subject to negotiate under normal circumstances, and it becomes even more difficult, and relevant, during an election season.

Read my article (free through October) and learn more about teacher research in the current special issue of The Educational Forum, “Teaching and Learning Teacher Research.”

In Part 2 of this blog series, Ms. Sequenzia will describe her research project on teacher disclosure. Stay Tuned!