On the first day of class, teachers begin looking at each new student. As we see each face, a preconceived notion of that person’s behavior has probably already been formed. Though the students are new, we have it all summed up—their attitudes, grades and future. Many teachers wrongly perceive that their students’ academic success is totally dependent upon gender, race, family configuration (married or divorced), or economic circumstances. For example, little Susan shows up for her first day of kindergarten with her blonde hair perfectly curled, her uniform neatly pressed and every accessory imaginable in place to make her look like a little princess; on the other hand, Toby arrives with unkempt hair, remnants of his breakfast still on his face, and a wrinkled uniform. If asked which student would likely have better academic success, most would answer Susan. Why? It’s because she is a girl, and she looks better. But what do those factors have to do with academics? We have heard over and over that we should not judge a book by its cover, yet we sometimes still fall into that trap with our students.
The book of Psalms reminds us that “we are fearfully and wonderfully made.” Many students do not succeed academically or spiritually because they have no one who believes in them. By the time they are in third grade, most students know whether they are perceived to be smart or not because of the conclusions that have been drawn by their teachers and/or their parents. Research shows that the attitude a teacher possesses can make a difference in students and that it does play a role in the students’ academic success.
Imagine yourself as a teacher at a new school being told by the principal that you will be working with a group of gifted students. You are told that the students, on average, have a higher IQ than any other class. These are not just honor students, these are elite young people. At the end of the semester, school-wide results show that your students exceeded the norm. You are asked how you surpassed the rest of the school and, of course, you give credit to your very talented students. Then the principal tells you that you were part of an experiment and your students were really just random students chosen for this project. Was it really the students—who were randomly selected—or was it you, the teacher, that made the difference?
Our schools would be greatly helped if our teachers had higher expectations for their students. I understand that some students have special needs, but most students would be helped if the attitude of the teacher changed from,“He will never get this,” to “I can help him succeed.”