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In Education, Expectations are Everything

Friday, December 14, 2012 -- Scott Sterling

Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re probably right.” I would expand that great line to “Whether your teacher thinks you can or thinks you can’t, they’re probably right.”

In the classroom, the teacher sets the tone. That is true during class-wide activities as well as one-to-one interactions. Kids are intuitive. They can sense what a teacher thinks they are capable of and will quickly bring themselves up (or down) to that level.

Here are some tips to make sure your expectations remain high for every single student who walks through your door:

Don’t look at their file at the beginning of the year

During pre-school week, teachers always anxiously wait for their classes to populate on the SIS with their new students. They then comb through each kid’s testing history and demographic data, trying to tease out what to expect from this student.

There’s nothing wrong with going into a new class prepared, but there’s also nothing wrong with waiting a week or two before you find out Johnny is two grades behind in reading and Anna is currently taking college-level math. Spend some time with these kids yourself, form your own opinions on how best to help them, and then check out the data. A lot can happen over a summer and you might have a kid that’s completely different from the one depicted in the scores.

Do whatever it takes to make sure positivity outweighs negativity, every day

Teaching is not easy and no one, except for a few politicians, has said otherwise. It’s quite easy to go down that road toward negativity and just mail it in every day. Whatever you have to do to keep yourself from making those mistakes, do it. Stop eating lunch in the teachers’ lounge and participating in “those” conversations. Make more positive phone calls home than negative. Work music and jokes into your classroom routines. Whatever it takes. Low expectations are a symptom of negativity.

Stop living in the past

Teaching is not any better or worse than it was when you first started. For every cool technological toy that saves you a lot of time, there’s a new mandate from the state that complicates the profession. The students that are currently in your class only have one thing in common with that school year that you really loved: you as their teacher. This is particularly true if you have taught a child’s older sibling. The new student deserves a chance to make his or her own impression on you without the shadow of their older brother or sister clouding your thinking.