Stereotyping, Prejudices and Assumptions
Updated: Jul 20, 2019
Everyone whether they like to admit it or not has prejudices and stereotypes upon which they make assumptions about people. For example I think that those students who smile at me and ask questions like my lessons and those who are reserved and hang about at the back of the class don’t.
Stereotyping someone can have a serious effect on the way we treat them and must therefore subsequently influence their learning. This is because our stereotyping affects our expectations. Put very simply if we believe a student is “good” they get better and vice versa.
My husband tells the following story about his own unfortunate stereotyping of someone when he was younger. He often tells this story even though he comes out of it very poorly as an example of the dangers of stereotyping.
When I was a younger man starting out in show business I often took work to supplement my income in between engagements. I was at this time working for Austin Reeds in their Regent Street store. I was suited and booted and working in a very fashionable environment.
Late on a Thursday afternoon a fishmonger direct from Billingsgate fish market walked into the shop, carrying a sort of large hook with fish hanging from it and smelling of fish.
“Got any scarves” he said
With my nose in the air and a disdainful look on my face I said “Only silk foulard scarves” They were really expensive with hand rolled stitched edges. I had immediately decided that this customer was not one of our account holders and could not afford the scarves.
“Yeah let’s have a look at them” said the fishmonger
I hoped he would not touch them but alas he picked one up rolling it deftly with his fishy hands and tying it round his neck in a knot. I was deciding that I would not let him touch any more. You would think I owned the shop and the merchandise personally as I was so protective. I think I visibly grimaced.
“Yeah that’s good I’ll take five” said the fishmonger selecting four more in various designs”.
With that he took out of his trouser pocket a huge wad of notes and peeled off what was three times the average working man’s weekly wage to pay for them.
The mistake was mine. I had assumed by his appearance that he would not be able to afford our merchandise. Even worse I would have given more respect to an account customer who was effectively putting goods on their account because they did not have the cash to pay until the end of the month. I had also assumed that our merchandise was too good for him. He conversely only wanted some good scarves to keep warm at Billingsgate at 5 in the morning.
I had learnt a valuable lesson.
So as teachers what can we take from this? Firstly never prejudge a student or an outcome by a student’s dress, demeanour or behaviour. Be aware of our own prejudices.
If we are honest we all have them. Do you favour students with particular behaviours? Perhaps it is students who have our own approach to learning. Perhaps it is the quiet ones or the ones who are very confident?
What is vital is that we are aware of our own prejudices and ability to stereotype. By having self awareness we can take care to do our professional duty for all students. You may not feel like encouraging a “know it all student” or someone who appears ungrateful, but you affect their learning outcome if you don’t.
Remember that we don’t know their back-story and avoid saying cheer up it might never happen. Something might have just happened in an unstable home environment.