I have been going to my gym for several years and only recently did I have an epiphany. None of the instructors look like me, and not all of them engage with me. I have been watching lately.
One example, we were doing sumo deadlifts, and I should have been lifting more than I was. As we began lifting, the instructor said, “You should be using at 50 pounds on this.” She then handed the woman next to me a heavier weight and ignored that I was only lifting 40 pounds. I also realized that during that same class that I had been avoiding using a jump rope the whole time I was there. When the jump rope exercises come up, I just make the motion without the rope.
I bring both of these examples up because I realized that maybe some of the instructors do not have high expectations for me in the workout. I know that I am a forty-something-year-old woman who is not lean which is very different from the young 20-something-year-old instructors.
Around the same time, I read Dear White Teacher by Chrysanthius Lathan. The comments from her students made me realize that what occurs at the gym is minor in comparison to what is happening to some students in the classroom. Students of color were being sent out to Mrs. Lathan’s class because for lack of better phrase, she was also of color and the white teachers were afraid. In the article, she discusses the fear that some teachers have and how they freeze. I encourage you to read the full article because I will not do it justice.
What took me three years to figure out, many students know when the teacher does not have high expectations for them. These same students can tell you who will hold them accountable and expect them to reach the bar.
My easy answer is to model the teacher who set high expectations for all of their students, but I realize it is much more complicated than that. We need to explore our unconscious biases and how they impact our expectations.
A postscript to my story: The last time I went to the gym, the instructor comes up to me after the first jump rope activity and asks where is my jump rope and why am I not using it. So needless to say, during the rest, I ran to my bag and grabbed. During that whole workout, I lifted heavier and with more focus. I’d like to claim it was all me, but I realize the instructor’s high expectations for me pushed me to that level.