We live a lot of our lives based on assumptions; a major one is that having woken up and made plans, the day will run as we’ve planned. We make plans that span time, like looking forward to holidays or arranging special events. Most of the time our assumptions turn out to be correct, allowing for the normality of daily life. Minor blips don’t usually cause confusion or throw plans out.
It is the adaptability of an individual to situations that arise that ensures that minor issues don’t become a catastrophe, such as having to take a detour when driving and navigating through unknown roads. That can also be a metaphor for life in general.
We assume that life will go on in the same way, but there will be many readers for whom real catastrophe has affected their lives. We fill the available space as if nothing will happen and then have to rapidly reorganise to the new demand. Highly adaptable people, over time, might develop grit and determination, essential life skills.
Teaching can be based upon assumptions. I’ve met teachers who, having been given their class records from the previous year, put them to one side, with the view that they’ll get to know them soon enough and will make up their own mind. Where this is the case, there can be slippage as learners adapt to new demands, which might be lower. Where this involves transfer to another school, this can be exaggerated.
No teacher goes into school unprepared, or wishing to do a poor job, but teachers can assume that the learners will enjoy the learning, that the subject will enthuse and their approach will inspire. There can be an assumption that the lessons are correctly pitched, with appropriate match and challenge within the activities or worksheets, especially if they’ve been “borrowed” from a colleague or internet site for the same year group.
Another assumption can be that setting and streaming create homogenous groups, to be taught as a whole, with no differentiation. As these groups are often created to suit the available space, the top 30 might contain a group which could, under different criteria be in a “lower” group, while the upper group in the next set might include some who could achieve in the top set…. As for the lower group, there can be an assumption that they have lower capabilities than they have. In a Primary classroom, the “top” group could be six as there are six chairs around the table. So we could encounter differentiation by table space.
Where there is a high degree of assumption, the signs that all is not well can lead to teacher comments which distort the working nature of the classroom. The focus can be on task completion, rather than the learning within the task. Off task behaviours may not be signs of ease or discomfort with the learning requiring a support and guidance intervention. They can be seen as distracted behaviour in need of correction, requiring “behaviour policies” to be deployed, in the assumption that these are correctly applied.
We make an assumption in teaching that our judgement is correct, that we can accurately assess children’s work, find the good bits and suggest ways to improve. We can make assumptions when talking with parents; we are, after all, the experts in child development. We are even sufficiently presumptuous to dictate aspects of home life, with significant amounts of homework for some individuals.
We assume that we are people-people, nice to know, with interesting lives outside teaching.
In many ways, we have to make these assumptions. To do otherwise would be to live with significant self-doubt, which can lead to illness. However, to teach based on assumptions can allow situations to get out of control.