“Your students are afraid of you.” “Really?” “Yes. You are intimidating. Try to smile more in class so they are more comfortable with you.” What began as the strangest, most Twilight Zone-like experience that I have ever had in my 13 years of teaching ended up being one of the most humiliating and frustrating conversations I have ever had.
Last November, my supervisor asked me to come to her office to speak with her about some concerns she had about me. She told me that the dean thought, but wasn’t sure, that he “caught” me sleeping in my classroom. What he didn’t tell her was that I was showing a film, the lights were off in my classroom, and he came up from behind me as I was looking at my computer screen. I jumped up because I was startled, not because I was sleeping.
The fact that he immediately jumped to a negative and irrational assumption was just one of the many experiences that I have had to face in academia. As a Black woman in higher education, I often find myself having to change, challenge or dispel other people’s preconceived notions about me.
I didn’t want to state the obvious: that my students were probably having difficulty adjusting to me, a Black woman, being their teacher. Most of the school’s students come from the small rural areas of Missouri and Illinois. Besides the few Black students in their class, I was probably their first interaction with a Black person, and most definitely their first experience with a Black teacher. Just when I thought the conversation couldn’t get any more ridiculous, it did. <Read more.>