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Tool: Examining assumptions

Developing a sociocultural consciousness requires that teachers think deeply about how their own cultural and social identities inform their beliefs about students and their practices and relationships with them. While the students who attend public schools are increasingly students of color and students who live in poverty, the overwhelming majority of teachers are white and middle class. This contributes to cultural mismatches between students and teachers that can result in students underachieving or withdrawing from school. Furthermore, many teachers did well in school and have fond memories of their experiences. This often results in teachers having little patience for or understanding of students who experience difficulties in school or for whom school represents an alienating institution.

Use the following questions to think about your own cultural and social identities and how they shape the ways you interact with your students and how you teach:

  1. List all of the social groups that you identify with. (Think about race, social class, gender, sexual orientation and other identities that are particularly important to you).
  2. What kinds of support, resources or other things do these groups provide you? Which groups do you identify with the most? Why?
  3. Take the first two groups that you mentioned. How would your life be different if you were not part of these groups? What privileges, resources and opportunities would you gain? What privileges, resources and opportunities would you lose?
  4. Look over the groups. What values, traditions and rules for interacting and thinking are required of people to be part of these groups?
  5. What kinds of tensions or conflicts are there between the values, traditions and rules for interacting and thinking among the groups that you belong to? How do you deal with these conflicts?
  6. How do the values, traditions and rules for interacting and thinking of the different groups that you belong to affect the way you interact with students who belong to the same groups that you do or to students who belong to different groups?
  7. How would you characterize your own schooling experiences? What made schooling positive for you? If you were successful in school, to what do you attribute your success? What kinds of resources, opportunities or privileges were you provided in school that helped you succeed?
  8. How do your own schooling experiences affect the ways you interact with students?
  9. How do your own schooling experiences affect your teaching?
  10. In what ways does this bring you in conflict with your students? Which students? How?
  11. In what ways do your schooling experiences help you understand and work with students? Which students? How?