Re-thinking Our Expectations

Did you happen to catch this article from NPR? It’s entitled “Teacher Expectations Can Influence How Students Perform” and discusses evidence that teacher expectations of students really do have an influence on their performance. Interesting, to me, for several reasons. Of course, I’m interested in how this affects what I do as a teacher. Teachers often meet with the current teachers of their incoming students at the end of the school year (i.e., the 3rd grade teachers meet with the 2nd grade teachers who have the incoming 3rd graders) to learn important and useful facts: who works well with whom, who prefers to work alone, who would benefit from extra planning time before a writing assignment, etc. Knowing something about your students is helpful. Seemingly minor details can really make a huge difference in the success and smooth running of the school year. However, this article made me think about information sharing in a new light: Is it possible that expecting things, good or bad, can be a self-fulfilling prophecy? If I start the year thinking Marcus is a strong reader and Steven has difficulties in math…am I contributing to this? Or am I more able to help, knowing where their strengths and weaknesses are?

I think somewhere in the middle is probably true. While I think it’s important to be aware and gather data about the needs of children (and I see the word “needs” to encompass academic/social/emotional/physical needs, not simply “learning needs”) as a parent and a teacher, this information made me take a step back and especially think about what I expect from my own children and how I might be influencing them.

My two sons have very different personalities. Everyone who knows them comments on how different they are. My husband and I talk about it all the time. “Oh Josh,” we’ll say, “He’ll be the athlete. Did you see him throw that ball? And Nate, making that giant block tower…our little engineer!” Mind you…they’re four and one. I wonder how much is nature and how much is nurture? How much are we making one child shy by simply introducing him and saying “He takes time to warm up…he’s so shy” and the other outgoing by saying “He just loves everyone he meets!” Maybe the so-called “shy” son would like to just decide for himself how he’s feeling that day…or perhaps our more gregarious son would like to be left alone sometimes!

If you have a second, the article is worth a read even if you’re not a teacher. Either way, take a moment and think about what you expect, both positive and negative, from your child, and consider whether or not expecting this truly benefits him or her. I, for one, am going to try harder to observe more and label less!

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