DR 4 Part 1: Visual Profiling in School and Life

I can remember one of the first times I was shocked at the result of seeing what someone looked like after hearing his or her voice. Over the course of the Star Wars trilogy, I was enthralled by the voice of Darth Vader, voiced by James Earl Jones, an African American man. It was so deep and so dark; I couldn’t wait to hear him speak every scene he was in. In Return of the Jedi (spoiler alert) Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader’s son, unmasks Vader for the first time in the series. When I saw that the actor playing Darth Vader was a Caucasian man, I was absolutely shocked and rather disappointed with his appearance.

Why was I so disappointed? For years I had this visual in my head that Darth Vader was a well built African American man, only to find out that he was indeed a Caucasian man. How many times have we experienced this in our lives? How many times have our students experienced this disappointment in visual/physical appearance? My thinking here is that we all have our own assumptions of what people should and should not look like based on their roles in the community, but can this “visual profiling” be damaging to our classroom, moreover our society?

We are all allowed to have our “Darth Vader moment,” but we cannot let this be a part of how we carry our social and professional lives, nor can we allow our students to do the same. As teachers, we know who the trouble students are based on conversations we have amongst one another. It is human nature to see a student of ours hanging out with said trouble student, and instantly peg this student as a trouble student as well.

Is this fair to that student? I have had this happen to me throughout my experiences teaching, where I have had students who hung out with others who would get in trouble, but still excel in the classroom. My hope is that by giving all my students, especially the ones who might hang out with the wrong crowd, an equal opportunity to succeed without social judgment, it will give them the confidence they need to succeed in school, in turn taking this experience and making it a part of their daily lives as well.

Amy Cuddy discusses in her Ted Talk that our bodies can change our minds. I agree with this whole heartedly as I preach this form of empowering yourself to feel good in my classroom. I compare her power poses to the one that I use when I need to gain confidence or self motivate; I like to sit back with my feet up and clap three times over my head and say “Lets Go!” My form of power pose that I preach to my students is having an upright position at their workstation, and as they are creating their project I want students to say to themselves “I did that!” By doing this it forces students to change how they feel about themselves in the moment, with the mindset that they can achieve anything they put their mind to.

I can imagine that on the first day of school, when Reading teacher Rick Kleine’s students walk into school, that they see their new teacher and think, “Man, that is not what I thought my teacher would look like.” His appearance is laid back and free (as observed with his long hair and ear ring), most likely to exhibit the kind of mindset he wants of his students. He is shown theorizing with his students about meaning and how it pertains to a certain theory in the book he is reading with the class. He asks his students to do the same in their own silent reading after the mini lesson, walking over to each student to see where their thinking is in the book they are reading. I enjoyed his mannerisms both in the message he was conveying and the delivery (kneeling next to the student using a quiet voice to get to their level).

In visual contrast, Reading teacher Dana Robertson is shown wearing the traditional button down collar shirt and slacks, using the more professional approach to his physical appearance. I bet his students walk in on day one and instantly think that he means business. His instruction is similar to that of Kleine’s, as he asks students to theorize about the text they are reading. but does it in a much different tone.

The difference is in the delivery between the two teachers. Dana Robertson prefers the more professional tone, where Rick Kleine prefers to get down to the students’ level in the way he reads to them. I would prefer to have Rick Kleine personally, because I like to be free with my students as well and let my humorous side come out to loosen up the classroom, much like Rick does with his students. I feel like I am much like the two teachers here; I dress like Dana Robertson but act and teach like Rick Kleine. I appreciate the power poses both teachers demonstrate in their classrooms.

-John V

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