The first question is easy. Do you agree that all teachers should set high expectations for their students?
The answer seems obvious. Of course, teachers should set the bar high for the kids they work with every day. It’s the second question that seems to really trip teachers up.
Do you honestly believe that all students can meet those expectations?
As a teacher, I’m constantly reminded that a key ingredient in student success is establishing those high expectations of our students. Most of the teachers I know would agree, at least in theory. If we don’t set the bar high, students just aren’t going to reach their potential in the classroom.
But according to a new report by the non-profit group TNTP, too many teachers aren’t holding up their end of the deal. When it comes to actually believing in our students’ abilities to meet those expectations, teachers just aren’t there.
In a study that surveyed hundreds of teachers across the country, over 80% of teachers said they supported their state’s academic standards, but only 44% of teachers said they believed all of their students could actually meet those standards.
In other words, a lot of teachers aren’t setting the bar high for their students, and that’s translating to lower academic success overall.
Expectations Are More Than Just A Feeling
Teachers are constantly bombarded with reminders about setting “high expectations” for their students, but as the study shows, not every teacher is doing a great job of living those expectations out. One reason is simply that the phrase “high expectations” is just so vague.
“High expectations” aren’t about some kind of fuzzy, feel-good sentiment you can capture in a classroom poster. It’s about giving students engaging instruction, challenging them with grade-level work, and providing the support that they need to excel with it. According to the TNTP report, that’s the mark that a lot of teachers are missing.
For starters, students aren’t always getting standards-based, grade-level assignments. The study indicates that most teachers aren’t using district resources and assignments, and even when they are, those assignments are only aligned with their state’s standards 53% of the time. That figure is even lower for minority and low-income students, as well as students with special needs. If our students are only being challenged in less than half of their assignments, can we honestly pretend we’re preparing them for the next big step in their lives?
I could go on and on about the dangers of eighth-graders doing fifth-grade work, but that’s not the only issue here. For me, there’s a deeper concern called the Belief Gap.
The Belief Gap Fuels Low Expectations
The Belief Gap is the gap between what students can achieve and what others believe they can achieve. That gap is the driving force behind teachers’ low expectations, and in turn, those low expectations lead to lower student performance overall.
When teachers don’t believe in their students’ ability to meet the standards, we end up with a lot of the same symptoms mentioned in the TNTP report: eighth-graders doing fifth-grade work, low student engagement in classrooms, and teaching that skimps out on critical thinking and student-led learning.
The solution? We have to believe in all of our students.
Success will not become the norm in our public schools until we believe that it’s a possibility. Strong teaching and deep student engagement are crucial too, but it starts with a belief. There are countless stories that show us the power in believing in all students, and when they’re given the right support and resources, they can achieve tremendous successes. I want more teachers to be a part of that.
So sit back and consider those two questions carefully. How high are your expectations?