One of the natural inclinations that, when I substitute teach, is not to put myself in the class. What I mean is, if I have a middle school class (for instance), I can usually guess half way through any period where I would fit in within the class’s dynamic. These are the students who would torture me. Those are the students who would be my friends. Those are the students who would unfortunately be my friends. Those are the students who would be kind but distant. That right there is the fat girl who would make fun of my weight to ingratiate herself with the popular-mean-nonfat girls. At the end of the day I do my write-up, and I should not mention – or fail to mention – a student on the basis of how I would expect they would have treated me at my middle school.

It’s a little different with the grade school kids because the social patterns aren’t all set yet. The notion of “I can’t be friendly with you because then other kids won’t like me” hasn’t fully set in yet outside of less than a handful of toxic individuals. I was actually a little surprised by this despite the fact that it matches up with my grade school experience. I remember a couple of kids at West Oak Elementary getting a really hard time, but it was rather an exception. I had previously thought that I had glossed this over because I wasn’t on the receiving end of much of it myself. But I am coming around to the idea of social patterns not having formed.

To jump back to middle school and high school and the inclination I have to resist, I guess it goes back to that saying that you graduate from the public school system but you never really leave it. The social patterns that establish themselves there long outlive their original context. I remember Eva saying that she and a previous boyfriend were having a hard time relating to one another because he was super-popular in school and she wasn’t. It sounds trivial, doesn’t it? Yet I am not sure it is. When your perception on that place that you spent seven hours a day for thirteen years of your life is so different, you can approach everything social with different assumptions. The justice of schoolground popularity, for instance. More basically, whether or not you can assume that people will like you.

Now, the older you get, the less all of this matters. But it does matter straight up through marriage. I don’t consider it a coincidence that all of the major romantic interests in my life have ranged from not-particularly-popular to unpopular. The friends through which you meet the person you marry are often (though not always) going to be people that you meet and become friends with while you labor under whatever impressions you have of your interactions with other people that you got from school. This isn’t set in stone (my brother Mitch was not-particularly-popular in high school but became Mr. Social in college), but it’s a general tendency I have seen.

All of this being really horrifying, when you think about it. Our social expectations being derived at a time when social alliances have no consequences beyond social standing. When being useful isn’t socially useful, for the most part. When being smart doesn’t help. When following the rules doesn’t help (and can hurt). These are the seeds from which our self-perceptions are often planted.

Category: School

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2 Responses to Classroom Culture

  1. ? says:

    My wife and I are at opposite ends of the introversion-extroversion spectrum. But we both have horrible memories of public school.

  2. trumwill says:

    I know at least a few extroverted people with miserable experience. It’s usually that people found them annoying and their extroversion made them a target. My introversion was actually a little helpful in high school in that it made me less of a target. But it hurt in the overall by my failing to learn how to interact with people more effectively.

    So I guess the problem with introverts is that they don’t get the feedback to be more effective social communicators. The problem with extroverts is that they are too busy talking to pay attention to the feedback.

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