Self fulfilling prophecies
I recently read the latest offering in Tom Sherrington’s (@headguruteacher) Pedagogy Postcard series.the series has been excellent and I would certainly advise any teachers or anyone else interested in teaching to have a read.
This recent post was entitled “Pitching it up“, and was discussing expectations. Tom was posing questions about how we see our classes and if we project limitations on to them. Do we, as teachers, miss things out of our teaching because we don’t think that a class will be able to cope with it?
This got me thinking deeper. Last week I was having a discussion with one of my year 11 students. He’s a bright lad and already has a number of GCSEs above the grade of C. But he tries to coast where possible and has a bit of a bad reputation amongst the teaching staff. We were talking about his plans for next year, he told me he had an interview at an FE college and he really hoped he got in because he wanted a fresh start. When I probed further he said he felt he needed one because “the teachers here know I haven’t been a hard worker, if I go there I can start again and they won’t have those preconceptions.”
This made me think a lot. Had I allowed him to get away with doing less than I would have allowed others to do because of preconceived ideas I had of him? Had my colleagues? How many preconceptions have affected the way I teacher people?
I thought long and hard about this, and I’m fairly sure that on the whole I don’t allow preconceptions to prejudice the way I treat my students. I have built great relationships with classes that I have heard colleagues write off as unteachable. I have been surprised to hear that some students are considered naughty when they are the stars in my class, and I’ve been surprised the other way too. Recently I was told be a colleague that the year ten boy I give tons of reward points to is in an almost permanent detention in numerous other subjects.
This must happen though, or the student in question wouldn’t have said that. It’s fairly understandable too. If you hear a name over and over again in a negative context then that name is going to have negative associations in your mind. We need to make an effort to fight against this, and to take the class in front of us as they are. Otherwise we run the risk of projecting negative behaviours onto them and creating self fulfilling prophecies.
Every student deserves a fair chance, and not to be tainted with a preconceived idea, whether that stems from staffroom hearsay, a troublesome older sibling or data received from a previous school.