Academic shaming is a fairly new area of research that will hopefully reach teachers across the world sooner rather than later. Brene Brown has been at the forefront of shame research and thankfully has brought much of it to the public eye but there is still a lot to learn. Academic shaming is a practice that has been happening for a long time. No matter how old you are, I bet you can think of a time when you were shamed in an academic setting. Did it make you feel good? Did it ever make you want to learn more? It likely made you want to shrink into a ball and roll far, far away. The same goes for our students.
My theory, which must still be tested and further investigated, is that teachers use shaming methods when they themselves are feeling inadequate in their teaching methods. If their teaching is not achieving the desired result, they see it as a reflection of their teaching rather than the students learning block. They defend themselves and try to protect their ego by using shame to make the student feel bad which in turn makes the teacher feel better. Teachers, while well meaning, are often experts in their field and have forgotten what it is like to be a learner. It takes time, the right conditions, and practice to learn new information.
At times throughout my academic career, I remember feeling like an incredible amount of background knowledge was required to understand the new material in some classes. It was as if coming to class to learn was not enough, you were expected to already know a bunch of the material and concepts. Teachers are sometimes so far removed from new learning that they forget how hard it can be! Teachers are meant to be guides who open the world of information to students and allow them to access it. If students are not accessing the information, it is the teacher’s job to help them access it.
I had a basketball coach whose main tactic was to shame the players on the team. If someone made a mistake, they would be shamed in front of the entire team. What many coaches and teachers disregard is that mistakes with guiding feedback are one of the best ways for students to learn. Remember that all students want to do well, it’s a matter of putting them in situations in which they CAN do well. By shaming learners, you take away that safe space to learn, cause anxiety, and usually fail to accomplish your goal which was ultimately to teach them.
And for that shaming basketball coach, you ask? I quit because it was impossible to learn.
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