Looking Past Assumptions

Middle East and North Africa September 18, 2023

I looked at the three eager, yet curious faces studying me shyly from around the plastic cafeteria tables. They didn’t know me, but I’d heard a lot about them. I knew their weaknesses, I knew where they excelled, and I knew what I would need to do to push them to do their best. Throughout class, as we studied pronouns, how to write for an audience, and purpose statements. I listened simultaneously as I taught, observing their reactions, timing their writing, and noting the areas to work on. 

As I tossed a yellow smiley-face bean bag to one student, I noticed him not only reach for the ball but also quickly think of an answer to the icebreaker question. He was supposedly “extremely lazy and absent-minded,” according to his evaluation from the previous semester. I watched him diligently answer each question, brow furrowed as he thought of how to use vocabulary in a sentence. I turned to another student and threw her the ball. She had been described as “shy, as a result, she rarely volunteers or participates willingly in class.” She was quick to volunteer answers and, when it was her turn, gave her statements without hesitation. Finally, the third student who “struggles to produce grammatically correct sentences” read to the class his paragraph on favorite foods. I only made one small correction. The rest was correct. 

I do not teach based on assumption. I teach, first of all, with the understanding that each student in my class is valued and is ready to excel. I know each student has weak areas. This is normal. I focus on reinforcing positive steps, affirming a student when they are able to execute a concept perfectly during the practice time. 

I believe in my students, and because I do, I see them start to believe in themselves. By the end of the semester, the shy one is speaking confidently in front of all their peers in assembly. The absent-minded one gives the best PowerPoint presentation for their final exam, and the one who struggles with grammar is writing short essays with ease. 

I’ve learned that teaching is more than concepts, facts, projects, and exams. It is the ability to see past the assumption to engage with the person behind it. The one who sits in front of me every day waiting to be seen. The one who longs to be mentored. The one who is ready to stretch and grow intellectually. The one who wants to share what they’ve learned with others. 

Teaching is when you enter the heart of your student, sit with them for a quiet moment, and tell them, “You are able to do this and I am here to help you.” Then it is a chrysalis of beauty as, step by step, they learn and grow. But it all starts with one simple thing: believing in them. 


Maria Lombart

Maria Lombart, MA, always vowed she would never be a teacher. Now the highlight of her week is seeing her fun-loving and unpredictable students who keep her on her mental toes. She is the Executive Assistant to the President of Middle East University in Beirut, Lebanon.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *