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Monday, June 27, 2011

Letting Students In: How Much Should They Know?

Before I get into what I'd like to blog about this week, I'd like to give a special shout out to a special group of people: Team 4 from USA Summer Camp 2010!

Photo by Yuta Shinozaki


Today is the one year anniversary of our landing in Japan. I participated in a progran called USA Summer Camp, through which I spend my summer teaching Japanese students English on a team of 25 people made up of American Counselors, Japanese Counselors, and an awesome American and Japanese Director! Although most of us live pretty far apart, we try to see each other a couple times a year, and our reunions are always enjoyable! There are a few people from my team I still talk to very regularly and they've become very good friends of mine. So, Team 4, on our one year, I'd like to dedicate this blog to you! <3


All right, now on to the lolita-teacher part of this entry!

Each week in my Japanese class I try to focus one of the two lessons on something cultural, and I base it around what the students want to learn. My quietest student had a real interest in fashion in Japan, which of course was exciting for me since Japanese fashion as a whole is something I'm pretty into. So last Monday I excitedly came in to work with photos and my Gothic & Lolita Bibles, ready to do a fun and engaging lesson on the many unique fashion statements of Japan. We went over a few dfferent substyles, and we eventually came to lolita. Confidently and proudly, I told my students that I was one as well, and had been enjoying the fashion for over a year. I even showed them a photograph of myself dressed up.

Now most would think that this isn't a big deal at all - it was relevant to the lesson material, and the students were all old enough to understand and appreciate it for what it was, right? Unfortunately, though, with being a teacher we're always walking a fine line with how much of our personal lives we can allow our students to know. With lolita being as controversial as it is, I wanted to spend this blog discussing the pros and cons of letting a student know that you are a "loli sensei", as well as when it might or might not be appropriate to talk about your personal life in general (so this is good for teachers who are not lolitas, too! ;) )

Let's list off the pros and cons of "letting students in" first.

Pros:
- Your students can know a bit about who you are as a human being
- You can help develop positive relationships with your students if  there are mutual interests (my quiet student turned out to love lolita and asked to borrow one of my GLBs after class)
- It makes you as the teacher appear more interesting - there's something unique about you that students can relate to and find interesting (which will help with making your lessons more successful!)

Cons:
- Your interests and hobbies (in my case, the fashion) could be misunderstood and parents could be offended
- Making yourself more "human" can at times jeporadize your authority in the classroom (students might begin seeing you as more of a "friend" instead of as a teacher and a professional)
- Students, parents, and colleagues may lose respect for you and treat you differently (though I'd like to believe this is rare and only happens for more extreme cases, though for lolita this might be something serious to consider)

Looking at all of this, the points both sides make are highly valid, making it tough to determine if it's necessarily "right" or not to allow your students to know that you're a lolita.

The conclusion I've formed, therefore, is that it's entirely situational!

For me, personally, allowing my students to know I'm a lolita is acceptable. For starters, my workplace knows, so it wouldn't be a shock or surprise to my supervisors if this got back to them through student word-of-mouth. Secondly, I teach Princess Academy and last Saturday led a lolita fashion panel at Woodlawn, so I actually have the opportunity to attend work in my frills. Lastly, I was able to judge the appropriateness of telling my students through knowing who my students were - they're mature, they're genuinely interested in the topics we learn, and they're open-minded and nonjudgemental (not to mention that, again, it was relevant to the lesson plan).

I feel that my situation is a rare and golden one where I am able to be open with my students about something unusual that I enjoy and is part of who I am. Now, when I begin my district teaching job in August (yes, by the way, I am now a middle school art teacher - SURPRISE!) that will be a different story. I won't really know how the staff will react, and I don't know how mature my students would be or if there would even be a lesson where lolita fashion would be relevant (and even if it was, would it be appropriate to share that part of my life?)

Although my job at Woodlawn is just as serious as any other job, there is a bit more leeway that I'm being given in terms of teaching styles and methods. Since Woodlawn isn't an official "school" and is more an offshoot of the YMCA, I have to act professional but not to the extent that would be expected of me for teaching in a school district. So, I'm allowed to let my students in a bit more with who I am (as long as it's appropriate, of course. I'm certainly not going to tell my students about a Friday night I spent stumbling around drunk no matter WHERE I am teaching).

 Now, this doesn't necessarily mean that because you work in a super-official-teacher-district-job that you can't EVER be open with students or faculty about lolita. I have seen a couple lolita teachers who wear their outfits to class (in a more toned down manner), or are just open about what they do and enjoy. During student teaching I was able to tell one or two of my students about my interest and participation in lolita (and even anime conventions!), but I took the time to make sure those students would be mature and accepting of it. I also didn't just bring it up randomly, but rather let it come into a relevant conversation. Again, everything has to do with the situation.

But how can you tell what would be a good situation for being more open with your students in regards to your personal life? I judge by these guidelines:
- How does this class mix with you? Are you able to be more lenient with them in general, or is this a more challenging class you must be stricter with?
- Are your students mature?*
- When presenting subject matter in lessons that is new or unusual, how do your students react?
- Are your colleagues open-minded and open about their own personal lives?
- Are you established enough in your position that being (appropriately) open about your personal life would receive little to no negative reaction from colleagues/students/parents?*

(* = particularly important points to consider)

If there are a couple points where you are hesitant about your answer, then it's probably not a good idea to delve too much into the details of yourself with students. Remember that you're their teacher and not their friend, so it's not really a bad thing if they don't know you're afraid of clowns or you live alone with seven cats on day one of the school year.

Above all else, remember: it's okay to bond with your students. Just remember to bond over what's appropriate and relevant :)

~Loli-Sensei~

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