Opinion | Recognizing individuality is a two-way street

Shay Hecker, Staff Writer

For as long as anyone can remember, there has been a divide between teachers and students in schools. For whatever reason, whether that be a difference in age, maturity, responsibility or power, there has always seemed to be a distinct ‘us vs them’ mentality that dominates high school. It’s pretty much a joke at this point—a common trope in every coming-of-age high school movie. So, when I first began to formulate this article, I almost instinctively gravitated toward this power struggle between students and teachers. My question was somewhat defensive: why is it so hard for teachers to see students as individuals with lives outside of school? Why don’t they care about us on a level that goes beyond academics? Don’t they see that this issue is damaging to our mental health?

But upon taking a closer look, I slowly began to realize that this issue was much deeper than it appeared at first glance. The more I thought about it, the harder it was for me to actually make the case that most teachers don’t respect the fact that students’ lives exist outside of their classroom. In fact, I came to the conclusion that, in my experience, teachers this year are actually doing a really great job at not falling into this cycle. Partricia Delacruz, one of ETHS’ AP Language and Composition teachers, is a well-known example of a staff member that seems to have this recognition of individuality already figured out. 

“It’s important that students know—and students that I have a relationship built upon—an understanding of one another’s identities. I think it matters that students come with different identities, different experiences, different ways of navigating school as an institution. That’s going to be what informs our relationship,” said Delacruz. “Part of being a teacher is taking my time to make sure that I’m engaging with you as an individual with human experiences, outside of being an academic.”

Dr. Delacruz pretty much just described every student’s dream: to be seen as a human being with lives outside of their classroom that might be completely different from how they’re perceived within the school walls. Students strive for a teacher to recognize that we have other interests, other struggles, and even other classes. To be fair, most would agree that Delacruz is a student favorite so it’s not exactly accurate to say that every teacher thinks this way. But, for the most part, I have heard about and had positive interactions with teachers in regards to recognizing our out-of-school lives.

“I feel like, if anything, students really don’t care about teachers’ individuality. These people have lives too,” remarked junior Tyler Tang. 

While I was inclined to rebuke Tang’s idea at first, it didn’t take much thought to realize that he may have a point. How often do we complain about teachers taking forever to grade our work, or for taking a day off because they’re sick? How often do we send emails and expect a response right away? 

“[Teachers] are not just teachers,” added Tang. “They’re fathers. They’re daughters. They’re sisters. They’re people that have impacts on other communities as well, and maybe we as students should be more aware of that and empathetic of that. But I think it’s a really give and take relationship. That type of sympathy could be given to the teachers, but I think it’s way easier if that type of relationship is also given to the students.”

A give and take relationship. This seems to be a reoccurring theme that both teachers and students can attest to.

“If I could transport one thing into my teachers’ minds about myself and other students, it would be that we are constantly learning and evolving. So even when we’re getting on teachers’ nerves, or when it seems like we’re impossible to deal (with), just remember we’re all trying to learn together and adapt the best way we can,” says junior Madisyn Bates “[But], I think that teachers struggle to take student individuality into account because they also have so much going on, and I think we as students even forget that our teachers have lives outside of just the work they do in class.”

So although I had originally set out to bring light to the flaws in our education system at ETHS, I now find myself sitting here with a completely new perspective. Perhaps it’s not the teachers who need to make changes, but our school as a whole. Our institution. Our society. ETHS is nothing if not a society inside a society, one that reflects not just us as students and teachers, but the general outlook that Evanstonians have of each other. If we all took a moment to stop when we’re irritated with a peer or a teacher or a student—if we put ourselves in their shoes, or at least tried to—maybe we wouldn’t feel so stuck in this ‘us vs them’ cycle. Maybe this could extend outside of ETHS. Maybe, by offering just a bit more empathy to our teachers and students, we can actually make Evanston a more connected, loving community.