High Expectations? Not so fast.
I think one of the most dangerously misinterpreted pieces of advice given to new teachers is “You must have high expectations.” The idea is that students will rise to whatever your expectations are, no matter how high they are. This sentiment is promoted by movies like ‘Stand And Deliver’ and ‘Freedom Writers.’
The problem is that this three word maxim ‘Have high expectations’ is too vague. What, exactly, does it mean?
If it means, “Don’t be a racist who thinks that minority students aren’t as capable as the rich white kids on the other side of town,” well, I’d agree with that. But I don’t think that many new teachers, particularly ones that want to be in Teach For America, really have that sort of attitude, anyway.
The reason the advice ‘have high expectations’ is dangerous is that new teachers, in trying to follow this advice, commit one of the worst mistakes a teacher can, teaching over their heads.
The advice should be ‘Have realistically high expectations.’ This would force the new teacher to consider that there is such a thing as too high of expectations, and to try to learn what sorts of things are realistic.
I found this post from a new TFA corps member who obviously did not understand the subtleties of the ‘have high expectations’ advice.
‘Low expectations,’ it’s true, are a self-fulfilling prophecy, but ‘high expectations’ generally are not.
When you make things too complicated, students don’t rise to your ‘high expectations,’ they lose confidence in themselves and, more importantly, they lose confidence in the ability of their teacher. Once they decide that their teacher is not competent enough to make ‘appropriate level’ lessons, they stop listening, start talking, and make it impossible to teach.
Also, you can have high expectations and also understand that it’s good to make things a little easy in the beginning to win your class over, knowing that eventually you will get to the harder stuff. But if you go in there with unrealistically high expectations and confuse your students, you will have a very tough year.