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My Educational Trajectory: When Teacher Expectations Turn into Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

Reports cards came out this week for students that I work with. I can remember being in elementary school scared to see what I knew were grades that my parents would not approve of.  Report card pick up days were even scarier. These particular days were marked as the time of year when parents had to come meet the teachers and pick-up our reports. When trying to understand why some students do well and why others do not, It is important to explore the power that teachers have not only with their teaching, but with their perceptions, regardless if they know it or not.

If you ask teachers to explain why some students do better than others, the dominant discourse is that they are doing all they can do with “those kids”, and many argue its family background and the characteristics of kids that determine success of failure. However, I believe that there is something going on inside of a school that can determine a child’s success or failure.

I remember being in 5th grade and my teacher took me a side and told me that she saw potential in me. She worked with me one-on-one and taught me how to divide fractions. I will never forget the moment that I felt as though I could learn anything. It was the very moment that the teacher told me that I could. Just imagine if this very same teacher had not taken the time out to care enough to build my self-efficacy. With only a few words the teacher made me (a C and D students) into an honor roll student.

Robert Rosenthal did a study that proves my experience to be true. He proved that something is going on inside of schools that either works to the advantage of some groups of students and to the disadvantage of others. Schools expect “certain things” from “certain kids”, and produce differential outcomes between students many times due to what they expect from them.

If my teacher had thought because of my social economic status or family values I could not achieve as well as other students, then even though I had just as much potential, I would have been a victim of the teachers negative attitudes towards me. Unfortunately, this turns into a cycle of self-fulfilling prophecies. On one hand, some teachers do not think that certain students can succeed because of factors that take place outside of school, and because they believe that, they in turn will interact with that child in a certain way that doesn’t cultivate that student’s potential. However, when the student does in fact fail, the teacher’s first assumption becomes true. And the cycle goes on.

I think this negativity that is breed in public schools turns into the downfall of communities access to upward mobility through the education system.

As I moved into high school, this lesson was only solidified. I built strong relationships with my teachers, which allowed me to build up human and social capital. If those relationships did not exists, which they didn’t for some of the more challenging students, the students in turn did not have access to building that social capital. And unfortunately, the cycle continues. My only question: who is responsible and who will take responsibility? Few teachers will even admit that they are bias towards some students over others. And the cycle continues.


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