Tag Archives: shame

When faces turn red, no one is learning [Inclusive Pedagogy]

panda covering face in shame

There seems to be an unspoken right for professors to call on students without warning. This I actually understand and sometimes do because volunteers sometimes take 5 minutes to push through silence (and there really isn’t time for that). While I have been told by a few students in comments over the years that this was awkward for them at first, they also tended to follow up with a self-reflection on how they got used to this dynamic. This is, however, one pedagogical tool that may cause embarrassment and shame.

Another pedagogical tool that might cause faces to burn is assuming a students ethnicity, gender identity, citizenship, ability, sexual orientation, and other identity markers. I actually sat in a class where the professor took it upon himself to go around the room and categorize each of us based on what he thought was our gender and ability level. It was extremely uncomfortable, to say the least. This was made worse by the fact that a queer woman was in the class and had made a point of not revealing her pronouns to us. While some might chalk this up to an old man being out of touch, this incident did serious damage to the learning environment and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who had a difficult time listening to anything the professor said for the rest of that class.

Students need to feel safe in order to learn. This is not just about the safety of the physical environment (though that is super important too) but the emotional environment as well. Instructors that are in the habit of shaming and calling out their students are actually creating traumatic memories of learning for their students. I say “habit” because I think every instructor, including myself, has had a moment where they regretted saying something or calling on a student who apparently did not want to be called on. For example, calling right away on a student whose second language is English and who needs more time to process the information. Knowing what students are comfortable with might be a matter or giving them a survey at the beginning of class but it could also be learned over time by observing the classroom dynamics.

All of this supports my thesis here that when faces turn red, no one is learning. When we as instructors fail to tread carefully and use pedagogical tools appropriately, we risk not only alienating our students but also causing them emotional trauma. From conversation had in the past week, it has become clear that anyone who has been in higher education for a few semesters probably has a good “you wouldn’t believe” about a professor. This shows that traumatic moments are quite common in academia, and much of this comes from instructors not communicating respectfully and generously with their students.


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