Cognitive Dissonance and Why You’re Not As Good a Teacher As You Think

Jose Vilson Education, Jose

Dilbert, "Cognitive Dissonance"

I get it: we teach how we are taught, or at least how we remember we are taught. If all you saw was chalk and black slate stone, and you made something of yourself, then, by gosh, that’s exactly what your kids deserve. If you had to do tons of busy work as punishment for your educational sins, then that’s exactly what the kids in front of you deserve. If you ate glop, gook, and everything in between for lunch, then that’s what the kids gotta eat too.


Teachers often reminisce about those good old days of writing “I will not procrastinate” 1000 times in college-ruled paper, wearing their itchy polyester and nylon hybrid uniforms, and hurrying home to watch Leave It To Beaver or Fox 5 kung fu flicks. They’ll tell really long stories about how much their kids don’t know whatever it is they don’t know and that’s because they’re not getting enough of those same sacrosanct experiences they had growing up. I’d listen, too, and too often, I entertained them, sitting in the teachers’ lounge wallowing in the negative energies associated with frustration for teachers of all ages.

But then I stopped. I then said, “Are we sure that every kid who was in your class actually learned?”

I thought about every single kid I shared a class with in elementary school, middle school, and high school. I have a hard time remembering whether I actually looked at all their quizzes, tests, homework assignments, and projects to see if they learned the material as well or better than I did. Or did I just look at mine and think the whole class was doing as well as I was? Did it really work for the kid right next to me or the kid in front of me? Did it work for the kid in the class over in the next room, next floor, or next school, even if the style was very similar?

Or do we just look at each other as teachers and think everyone learned like us?

Many (not all) teachers work like this, too. Some of us live in this symbiotic relationship where we, as the former nerds of our respective school, come together and reinforce our malformed ideas of what we thought school was. It’s laughable because, when you finally awaken to this reality of what’s been happening the whole time, you see just how dangerous the teachers’ lounge and cafeteria can be to your mental health.

And if you’re anything like me, you then ask yourself, “What are we going to do about it?”

By it, I mean the achievement gap, the constant letdowns with our kids’ competencies, students’ high school and college graduation rates, neighborhoods, communities, lifestyles, … our profession?

The room falls silent, then. Or, at least, one person just goes back to restating the problem. I commence with the mental eye-rolling, knowing education can’t stay this way.

Jose, who has critiques for my brethren too, including myself …