How Teacher Expectations Influence Student Performance
Culturally diverse students, like all students, are vulnerable to teacher expectations. The Rosenthal and Jacobson study of 1968 was the first full-length study to suggest that teacher expectations, even when based on erroneous information, can influence the academic performance of children. This harmful practice is commonly known as the Pygmalion Effect.
The educational difficulties that they experience later on in life can be correlated with a lack of motivation or encouragement from teachers while they were in elementary school. If no interventions are implemented early on, this will manifest itself into learned helplessness later on in life.
Also damaging are the comments often heard in the teacher’s lounge such as “That Maurice never does his homework” or “Malcolm is always causing problems.” Instead of permitting negative first impressions to become permanent opinions, teachers can attempt to build a classroom environment in which every child is valued, challenged, and expected to succeed.
In my early years, I remember the teachers who encouraged me to live up to my academic potential, but I also remember others who only paid attention to those children they deemed worthy of their attention—the children of professionals and business owners. It was as if the rest of us were destined to work at the neighborhood fast food restaurant or at a local factory, so we weren’t worth the time and effort.
Teachers must realize that even the child with poor manners and aggressive tendencies has potential. Even though they might get on your nerves from time to time, never forget that you have been charged with a duty to educate every child. You don’t choose the profession; the profession ultimately chooses you. You must take a vow to change the world without letting the world change you.
Rosenthal and Jacobson (1968) originally proposed that teacher expectations act as self-fulfilling prophecies because student achievement reflects expectations. Once teachers form expectations, they convey them to students through smiles, eye contact, and supportive and friendly actions. Low teacher expectations have been identified as a significant obstacle to academic achievement for disenfranchised learners.
It is difficult to put aside our biases concerning the abilities of disadvantaged students, but it is a critical first step toward effectively educating disenfranchised youth. Teachers must enter the instructional arena with the belief that all students can and will learn. Lowering academic standards and giving students easy, watered-down assignments set the stage for reduced student achievement.
Teachers should not accept excuses for poor performance, nor should they develop expectations based on ethnicity or family income or any other factor unrelated to student performance. What did we miss?