I have always drawn my identity from reading and writing. That and Disney movies. Reading has always given me a feeling of belonging, of peace and safety in the knowledge of who I am and how I relate to the world. When Johnston talks about how, “Children in our classrooms are becoming literate. They are not simply learning the skills of literacy. They are developing personal and social identities–uniquenesses and affiliations that define the people they see themselves becoming” (22), I completely understand. As children growing up in school, we get a lot of information thrown at us, and a lot of the time we are going through severe social and emotional changes as well, things like puberty or separation anxiety for younger children. When teachers lift that gate between school and the real world, like Johnston suggests, it allows us to merge the two environments. Unifying our mindsets and ideas like this opens us up to learning, because we feel as if it is going with the flow of the other important things in our lives.
A passage that particularly connects with me is when Johnston talks about how characters behave in novels. He says, “This is not just what authors do, it is what people do to themselves. They narrate their lives, identifying themselves and the circumstances, acting and explaining events in ways they see as consistent with the person they take themselves to be” (23). As a writer, I fully understand how hard it is to construct a believable, alive character that develops and changes throughout the story. When Johnston put it in this context, it made me realize that as hard as it is for me writing a character’s identity, it is harder still for actual people to create their own identities. The impact of our words and actions as teachers shape how our students view themselves and react to their peers, their authority figures, and their surroundings.
Growing up, I remember being horribly confused about things like identity and personal growth. Obviously, children don’t abstractly think about these ideas, but we all go through them still. Events that negatively influence our identities in school can severely impact who we become as adults. One of the most powerful phrases I think Johnston suggests is, “That’s not like you” (24). I know that, when I was a kid, it was easier for me to shrug off a punishment when I was getting yelled at. All this did was rile anger inside me, and rebellion. But the minute I felt as if my parents or other family members were disappointed in me, or thinking that my actions were below who I was, my cheeks would flame up with shame. People unconsciously WILL live up to a reputation, good or bad, and I think this is Johnston’s point with this phrase. If you constantly are informed you’re a “bad” student, you’ll begin to act like one even more. What other identity is being offered to you? It makes sense that in order to create positive identities and a sense of belonging, you have to utilize the “that’s not like you” phrase instead of a simple reprimand or punishment.
As much as Pavlov was a genius for psychology, we have to remember that our student’s aren’t Pavlov’s dogs. There is passion and drive in all of us, and to manipulate powerful things like identity the wrong way can lead to self-doubt, discouragement, a disdain for learning, and a hardened heart when it comes to the world of reading and writing. After all, a student that feels unappreciated in a classroom, or feels a lack of expectations for their involvement, won’t see the point in asserting their opinions and ideas through writing. That situation is a true shame.