As an educational consultant, teacher and motivational speaker, I often have the awesome opportunity to have conversations that cause people to reevaluate their perceptions of the world. In these dialogues, I often attempt to push teachers and students to think in different ways that affect the way they see themselves and those they interact with. Last week, while sitting with a group of new seventh grade teachers discussing the behavior of a particularly obnoxious seventh grader, named Chris, who had been suspended, thrown out and/or told he was a problem by each of the teachers, I had the opportunity to have such a conversation.
While talking with this young group of teachers, I brought up the possibility of following Chris and his classmates by teaching eighth grade next year. Knowing their opinion of this young man, the teachers immediately noted the fact that they didn't feel as if they had the patience or tolerance to withstand a second year with Chris. Not surprised to hear the apprehension in their comments, I quickly switched the conversation to the Eagles-Cowboys game.
Aware of the fact that all four teachers were football fans, I knew they were familiar with the story lines of the players and of the current debate regarding Michael Vick being considered the Most Valuable Player in the NFL this year. Going back and forth debating Vick's performance, all of them agreed that if not the MVP, he should be considered a close runner up to the award by the end of the year as long as he continues in the same fashion of exciting play, leadership and exemplifying high level of sportsmanship. After noting how quickly the media's and public's attention shifted from negative to positive toward Vick's ability, we all agreed that none of us could have predicted that he could ever be in the position that he is now.
After hearing them come to the same conclusion about Vick, I shifted their attention back to obnoxious Chris. I informed them that I did not have the authority to ask them to matriculate with their students next year, rather my intention was to get them to identify with the sentiments shared about Michael Vick. This young, immature and insecure student had never committed a crime, hurt anyone or anything physically and yet just like the media outlets ostracized Vick these teachers had made this student out to be the worst child in America. Once they realized the extent of their low expectations that had been surrounding this young man, I questioned them to consider if this young man had the ability or the talent to utilize to turn himself around like Vick. Examining the changes that Michael Vick has undergone in the perception of the media and sports commentators, it appears that through surrounding himself with individuals to advise him how to better himself on and off the field, his demeanor, attitude and contributions to the team have all improved.
Research concerning student performance informs us that teacher expectations are directly correlated with student performance. In essence, how can we hope students will be successful if they are surrounded by low expectations? How can we think our Michael Vicks can win the Superbowl or an MVP award if we're not cheering for them to win? After years and years of people expecting you to fail, never having the patience to watch or help you grow, it would be nothing less than a miracle for a student to change for the better. With that in mind, the teachers came to the conclusion that it isn't acceptable to simply allow this young man to continue his year without the support of teachers who hold him to a higher expectation.