Paley White Teacher Chapters 8-14 Unconditional Care

Paley, V. G. (2000). White teacher. Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.


Reflection on Chapters 8-14:

Quotes that stood out to me:

  • “She (the teacher) liked every single child. This is a great comfort to children, having a teacher who likes everyone and knows how to show it. When you have a teacher who likes some and not others, you must keep maneuvering for her approval. This interferes with the more important business of learning to relate to your own peers (p. 38).”
  • “Homogeneity is fine in a bottle of milk, but in the classroom it diminishes the curiosity that ignites discovery (p. 53).”
  • “But when you lack faith in a child’s ability, you show it in subtle ways. You don’t introduce them to certain activities, or if you do you stop at the first sign of trouble. You avoid giving them time and attention in certain kinds of discussions. Somehow the children who excel are given practice in excelling. The children who begin slowly receive a different set of experiences (pp. 66-67).”


Ideas that came to me:

  • Persistence
  • Inquiry stance
  • Taking others’ perspective
  • Trust
  • Relationships


I really appreciate how Paley writes from examples and through her language, I get a sense of her struggle. I appreciate her honesty, and I think that is one of the unstated messages from this book. She is telling us that we have to be honest with ourselves and with others – that it is okay to not know everything and it is okay to make mistakes. We only learn when we can try and experience, and that means making some mistakes sometimes. However, I think there is something that Paley is neglecting to recognize and that is the value of forgiveness. In order to take risks where one might make a mistake (be that a cultural mistake or an academic one), the learning environment needs to be created in such a way that people feel safe to make mistakes. Creating that environment involves building relationships with the others in the environment and supporting the building of relationships among the others. It also means having an understanding so that we can forgive if someone makes a mistake. In this kind of environment, there exists and unconditional care for individuals as humans. Similar to the unconditional love we might get from a parent, unconditional care would mean that we learn to care for each other for better or for worse. For instance, I know that my mom loves me unconditionally. That means that even when I make a mistake, and I know that I have in my life, she is still my mom, she still cares for me as a person, she accepts that I am learning, and she forgives me so that we can move forward. Now, that does not mean that I go around intentionally making mistakes to be hurtful or vindictive; it simply means that if I make a mistake unintentionally, I know that there is someone there to help me through this process. I think we have a similar responsibility as teachers. Instead of playing “I got you,” we have a responsibility to care for our students unconditionally, to consider mistakes as learning scrapes, to create the environment that allows for students to gets bumps and bruises but not break any bones on their way to learning, to help the individual reflect on the situation, and to forgive so that we all can move forward.

I also appreciate how Paley is constantly asking questions. As I read her examples, I note paragraphs where she asks herself questions and reflects on the situation. To me, this is a perfect example of developing a reflective practitioner. Having this kind of disposition means that in order to make sense of her problems, she has to process what is happening. It would be very easy for her to blame others and complain about the situations in which she finds herself, but instead, she simply looks inward and asks questions. I aspire to continue to elevate that practice in myself and I hope to support others in this endeavor.