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Setting High Expectations and Believing In Students


Found in: Back to School, Transitions

To help begin the school year or new semester with high expectations and to avoid giving students the impression that I prejudged them, I found it helpful to read memoirs. This might seem unrelated to teaching, but when I had difficult, hard-to-reach students, it has helped to remember, for example, that Maya Angelou was raped and refused to speak even though she was filled with poetry and power; Barbara Robinette Moss suffered malnutrition and poverty and grew to defy society's expectations; Ingo Hasselbach, heavily invested in the violence and hatred of neo-Nazi extremism, eventually found the strength and knowledge to defy what had once been his identity; and Mark Mathabane lived with the denigration and institutionalized racism of apartheid but was freed by a determination to learn and athletic talent.

I tried to imagine what teaching seventh grade language arts to those individuals would have been like, not knowing how to reach silent Maya; dirty, unfed Barbara; angry, entitled Ingo; oppressed Mark. I doubt I would have recognized their potential. I believe I might have felt overwhelmed and given up. Recognizing this about myself, I found it easier to look beyond my students’ difficult behavior and sullen disinterest in my subject and to see them as full of promise.

I was more able to deal with misbehavior clearly, specifically, and unemotionally and separate it from my opinion of and belief in a student. I was more able to teach my subject with enthusiasm rather than hiding my excitement because some students appeared disinterested. I was more able to smile at students, to avoid favoritism, to find little opportunities to encourage and interest challenging students. I was more able to remember I was in a position to add positivity, information, encouragement, and caring to their lives.

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