On the first day of a new semester, I often have students introduce themselves via a simple icebreaker. I ask them to state their name, major, and an adjective that best describes their personality and begins with the first letter of their first name. Inevitably, I’ll get the Joyful Jens, the Bold Brendas, and the Sarcastic Sams.
Last fall, “Roger,” an African-American student studying business, gave this response: “I can’t think of anything really. I would call myself ‘Reading Roger,’ only I’m no good at reading. You’ll see. I suck at it.” (I’ve changed his name to protect his privacy but it did begin with an “R.”) In an effort to boost his confidence, I said, “Well, I’m just going to call you ‘Reading Roger.’” His answer? “Pshh! Whatever. Like I said, I suck at reading. Watch. I’m horrible.”
Needless to say, I was taken aback by how certain he was about his alleged incompetence. I firmly believe that the way students think of themselves (and how they articulate those thoughts) is directly connected to their ability to learn. In Roger’s case, the lies about his capabilities were already firmly embedded and he’d bought every single one.