High expectations lead to great things

Before this week I was not so acutely aware of the effect of a teacher’s expectations on her students. Peering back into my history as a student, I remember most of my teachers expecting more of me than I sometimes gave, but I certainly wasn’t able to recognize changes in my behavior as a result.

The power of self-fulfilling prophecies is clear, though. If you are made to believe you are a great dancer, you will dance more often and improve with more practice and less inhibition. If you are made to believe you are a poor soccer player, you may quit the team and never improve. The phenomenon is the same in the classroom, but with more significant consequences. Teachers project their expectations of students, verbally and non-verbally, consciously or not, and students can tell. If their teacher doesn’t expect much of them, there is little incentive for students to set higher goals for themselves. It is not a direct route, but higher expectations lead to better performance, which leads to greater pride in one’s work, and then there is also the cyclical effect of greater pride in one’s work leading to still more improved performance.

I look forward to working with great students. I am moving into a world of international private schools with resources and involved parents. I know that those things do not equalize student’s ability, but I know that I will not be facing all of the challenges that some of my present colleagues may have to face. I hope to slip into a system that already has high expectations of its students, where it will be easier for me to hold all of my students to high standards. In very concrete terms, I am glad to add classroom techniques to my toolbag, like giving students time to think, using fairness sticks to call randomly on students, moving constantly among all of my students, asking for more developed answers, finding and explaining the right and wrong in everyone’s answers, and more.

In terms of the group assignment we completed this week, I will not hesitate to say that I was the weakest link. Carolyne started us off early, creating the glog and doling out assignments, knowing that this was a busy week for everyone. Daniel contributed probably half of all of the content on our glog. I did some work, later became indignant when it disappeared, realized I hadn’t saved it, and had to hurriedly do it again in what space remained. This group project simply was not my priority this week.


A perfect, happy classroom, right?

Keeping a class in line is something I’m really anxious about. When I picture myself in the classroom, I envision a pretty rosy place with lots of smiling faces and no screaming or biting or crying (again, elementary…). There’s no back-talking in that classroom, and very few hurt feelings. I’m worried reality won’t be kind to me.

I understand it’s crucial that the students respect you as the teacher, and that respect is earned by being fair and consistent. It’s upsetting to hear stories about students being discriminated against by one teacher and then getting it into their head that they’re bad students and then growing into that role, potentially ruining the rest of their school career and life. There’s so much riding on being fair to all students, regardless of whether you like them personally or if they remind you of someone who tormented you growing up.

I want to have a classroom with clear, simple rules that students can reference easily. I really like the idea of students being involved in the process, either helping to create our class rules or the consequences for infractions. Even younger elementary students can take ownership on that level. And then hopefully they can hold each other accountable to the rules every once in awhile.

One line I’m really not sure how to walk is the one between taking students and their conflicts seriously and micromanaging everyone’s hurt feelings. In the classroom I served as the assistant, a kindergarten class, there was a lot of… tattling. A lot of crocodile tears. The teacher and I could have spent all recess sorting out who wasn’t allowing who to play with them, but often that seemed unnecessary and over-involved, and I watched experienced teachers instruct students to try to work it out themselves. I want to take my students’ concerns seriously, and everyone needs to feel safe at school, but negotiating everyone’s social network would be impossible. Is bullying like obscenity? I know it when I see it?

I’m not overly worried about students liking me. Children seem to, in general. I like them, and I know that goes a long way. I could have a rude awakening in store for me, naive from my own experience of loving the vast majority of the teachers I had. I really don’t think that’s going to be my biggest problem though. Famous last words?

Learning objectives and digital tools

Today’s classrooms sometimes come with computers, SmartBoards, iPads, cameras, touch tables, and more, all outfitted with more technological tools than we needed to get to the moon. When it comes to incorporating these tools into a lesson plan, is more always better? No, certainly not. Technology should be used strategically, not as ploys to entertain students or simply for the sake of using these resource-expensive digital tools.

It should all start with the learning objectives of the lesson plan. These objectives should be specific and concrete; they should be measurable. They should not set unrealistic expectations. In teaching a lesson about local geography, a learning objective might be: Students will create a map of the area around the school, incorporating three features that aid in direction-giving.

To get started on this project, the teacher might open Google Earth on her computer and project it so the students can see her zoom in on their school. They could discuss as a class what they see that helps them know where they are–street signs, recognizable buildings or parks, and so on. If this is an in-class assignment and students don’t have access to a class set of laptops or iPads, they can draw their own map from what they see projected, or they could go to the computer lab and work on mapping software to create their map digitally. But if the mapping software is too complex or offers an overwhelming array of options, it might distract students from the task at hand.

When building a lesson plan, technology shouldn’t be incorporated simply because it is available. Be wary of it serving as a distraction or a reward before it works as a tool.