“It used to be, everyone was entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. But that’s not the case anymore. Facts matter not at all. Perception is everything.” – Stephen Colbert
I’ve been reflecting on our modern western society lately. What I’m about to write isn’t anything new; it isn’t anything we haven’t encountered before. However, I’ve faced some of these characteristics of our society and witnessed many friends and colleagues face these characteristics at great distress to their emotional and mental state. Today I am writing about the tendency to ignore facts and instead to trust perception. Colbert’s quote at the beginning of this post is right on the money. “Facts matter not at all. Perception is everything.”
In education, teachers and administrators are usually the type of people who live and die by facts. After all, one of our main duties is to teach students facts and to help them use these facts to influence the world in which they live. This is why it is difficult for those of us in education to face criticism from others that are based on nothing more than perception. The educator inside of us wants to shout out with a thunderous cry: “But here are the facts!” Yet these cries are often perceived (yes, that ‘perception’ word is sneaking its way in with a different permutation) as defensive, dismissive, or they are completely disregarded.
I have had to help my fellow educators with this, when a parent perceives that the teacher is “mean” or that they are not teaching standards based lessons. The reality/fact is that the teacher is not mean, and that they are doing their job in an exemplary manner. The teacher knows this, as the administrator I know this, however the parent perceives this to not be the case despite the facts that provide evidence.
Over the years I have had teachers in my office in near tears when I have to share with them what the perceptions are of some of the parents about them. Its biting to have someone criticize you. Its even more biting when that criticism comes about something you are deeply passionate about and to which you give your heart and devoted time.
They are not alone in this. I too have faced similar crisis of perception from time to time. It stings. Yet the fact that I have faced similar situations or situations that are much heavier often helps in our discussion. I am able to share my experiences, my pain, my frustrations that no matter how much I give there will always be some who wish to see darkness in the forest rather than light and hope. I believe it helps the teacher understand that they are not alone. I try to bolster their self image and devise strategies to help improve the perception so that it more closely resembles reality.
One of the hardest things I have to say and explain is that while perception is not reality, the perception of the parent is the parent’s reality. We have to address it and cannot ignore it hoping that they will change their mind. We will not always be successful; some people have their mind set and they do not want to leave the darkness of the forest. However, sometimes people are looking for a guide to help walk them through the darkness and to lead them to the sunny brooks and glens that warm the heart and mind. Its difficult to be the guide when you are perceived as something in the darkness. Yet, this is exactly what we must attempt to accomplish.
I do not write this post to complain. Instead, I write it for my colleagues so that they know that they are not alone. Hamlet said it best, “For there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” We are in the profession of thinking. As much as it pains us, lets work through our hurt feelings and help change the thinking so that all understand the good that we are constantly doing in our classrooms and schools.
I’m interested in your thoughts on this. What strategies have you used to help change a misplaced negative perception? What advice do you have for those of us in the trenches pushing ever forward to help our students?