How Personal is Too Personal?

In high school classes, it’s common for the teacher to try to get students’ attention through uncommon means. It starts with an icebreaker on the first day of school, then it’s a project about your favorite things, then it’s a personal essay on your family – and for some students, that’s too much information given out against their will. Although these kinds of facts may seem benign, students have a right to keep any information they want to themselves, and teachers should be required to ask each and every student if they are okay with an activity that involves sharing this kind of personal information.

Icebreakers, especially in the beginning of the year, are an easy way for teachers to memorize names and get students to familiarize themselves with each other. Sometimes icebreakers are just saying your name aloud, but sometimes they include saying a fun fact about yourself or playing “two truths and a lie,” and therein lies the problem. It’s important for teachers to  keep in mind that these kinds of games create anxiety in some students as they try to come up with facts about themselves that won’t warrant judgement from their peers. High school is notorious for its critical atmosphere, and causing stress in students for the sake of icebreakers is unnecessary. 

In Pre-AP English II there is a project introduced to students that involves interviewing and making a “portfolio” on a relative that isn’t part of your immediate family. It makes sense for teachers to infer that everyone has a grandmother or an uncle, but they don’t take into consideration that family is complicated. Some students, for many reasons, are not close with any of their distant relatives and this project puts not only them but their parents in an uncomfortable position. There are so many circumstances that would cause this and at this point it is negligent of teachers to recognize this. 

It can be argued that teachers are willing to make exceptions for students like this if they just talk to them, but it should not be qualified by talking. It is embarrassing for students to ask for accomodations like this because it is essentially admitting the problem in a personal way to a stranger. This, to many, is even worse than just going through with the project or the icebreakers, which is why so many students just suffer through it. There is no reason a teacher shouldn’t offer alternatives from the very beginning; preschool teachers ask children if they want a “hug, high-five, or a wave” as they walk into the classroom, allowing the student to greet the teacher at their comfort level. An icebreaker can be a student’s fun fact about themselves, their favorite food, or just saying their name. A project can be interviewing a distant relative, an immediate family member, or a teacher. Each of these alternatives still allow the student to participate fully in the activity & takes the pressure off of them.

As previously mentioned, high school can be rough on some people. It’s difficult to exist as an individual with a unique background in a class with twenty other people that the teacher is supposed to treat exactly the same as you. This is why the school district has been pursuing a more streamlined way of teaching that allows students to pursue their own path of learning that fits their own needs, from the GT program to the switch from Google Classroom to Canvas. Resolving this issue is a small thing teachers could do to make the secondary education process easier and better for everyone.

By Madeline Tredway, Staff Writer

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