Gaps in Language, Gaps in High Expectations?
I always love reading Lisa Delpit because I find that her writing challenges me and my conceptions of myself as a future teacher very directly. In this week’s reading, she wrote about the importance of pairing high expectations for students with “social support.” She called this the “warm demander.” What struck me most in this reading, though, was what this warm, though tough, support looks like. Delpit discusses how often for African American children high expectations are manifest in tough (and sometimes harsh) language. For example, Delpit writes that her great niece DeMya turned to her once and said, “When people’s mamas yell at them, it just means they love them.” After reading this and other passages with similar messages, I had to re-acknowledge (its something I’ve known and gappled with for a while) that this type of language and way of expressing oneself is not a practice this a part of my culture. I am not used to love and support being expressed in this way.
Delpit, in other pieces, writes about this gap in language and expression. She talks about the ways many White, middle class families ask questions and make requests, as opposed to using directives and Teacher Lucinda, similarly, reflected on the panel that she had a hard time communicating with her students her first year because she was not communicating on their terms. I guess what I’m struggling with right now are these gaps in language. 1) I can work to understand my students’ cultures and to learn and appreciate how they communicate 2) I can express my high expectations for my students in my terms and the way I know how but 3) I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to always express my high expectations in my students’ terms. On the one hand, I want to adjust my teaching practice to meet the needs of my students. On the other hand, I don’t want to be inauthentic. I would be faking it if I tried to yell as a means of showing love because that’s not how I’m used to expressing it. So where does this leave me?
I guess the last thing I keep thinking about is time. I am confident that if I had the time and the space, I could express my belief in and dedication to students in my own, authentic way and that they would, over time, come to appreciate that I was trying to understand their terms while meeting them on mine. But I worry about what gaps might exist at the beginning? What if my students don’t give me the benefit of the doubt? And what if I, in turn, misunderstand my students?