I've heard the saying "You can't judge a book by its cover" all my life and always nodded my head, agreeing that first impressions are not always accurate. But that has never stopped me from having those first impressions and still being impacted by them.
In traveling around the country talking to districts about how to observe teachers accurately, objectively and fairly, we often talk about bias, and "first impressions" can often become biases. My classic first impression bias is "This teacher is wearing a tie. He must be a good teacher." Alas, I am proven wrong, time after time. I have not yet found a true correlation between teacher dress and effective teaching. And yet....I still have that tinge of first impression bias when I see the tie on the male teacher.
As I said last week, our latest foster Lab, Buddy, is one beautiful animal but also a bit strong-willed. We knew it was time to begin letting folks come see him and find out if there was a "love connection" -- I was beginning to get really close to him and the longer we keep a foster, the tougher it is to let go.
The way the system works is this: we put the dog out on a dog-a-log (yes, she really said dog-a-log), approved adopters can check out the log and call on the dogs in which they have an interest. As beautiful as Buddy is, he began getting calls right away, despite his 95-pound frame. A couple wanted to come visit but said they had dinner and theater tickets for the weekend and maybe we could do it next week. First impression---get your priorities straight. If you want the dog, you will come visit even if it isn't convenient. The next folks that called already had two dogs at home; one was a puppy. First impression---why do you want to adopt a dog when you just got a new puppy? You likely can "argue" with my first impressions, combatting them with good reasons to not let my first impressions cloud my judgement. But that is exactly what they are---first impressions. They don't often have "reason" behind them, instead they just are. So, after a few phone calls, I received a call from a couple. They said they were much older but didn't want an older dog because they still wanted the dog to be fairly active. They both sounded elderly, and the woman admitted she used a cane and a walker. My first impression: They won't be able to handle a dog like Buddy, who is big and controlling (even though he doesn't pull on his leash at all).
And yet....when this couple came to see Buddy, from the moment they got out of their truck, Buddy's tail couldn't seem to stop wagging. It was if he knew he had found his forever home the instant he saw them. Couple that with the fact that when they came in the house, she sat down on the floor and buried her face in Buddy's fur and let him kiss her all over, talking to him like she had loved him for years. They left with Buddy yesterday. He was sitting pretty on a nest of blankets and pillows they had piled into what used to be a backseat of their truck. He leaned his head out the window to give me one last kiss (an enormous lap of the tongue across my entire face) and gave me a look that seemed to say, "I sure am glad you didn't follow your first impression."
I think we owe it to people, especially teachers whom we observe, to be as objective and bias-free as we can. While it may not be possible to eliminate our biases entirely, we need to leave them at the door when we walk in to observe.
Just for today, let's be conscious of our biases and first-impressions and not let them take root in our actions.