Education is constantly undergoing change, be that change required by shifts in state laws, or change coming from district leadership. Teachers are regularly asked to make adjustments to their lessons in order to meet new standards. Sometimes this can be frustrating, but most of us realize that it is needed in many cases. Take the attitude adjustment training that my colleagues and I had to go through a few years ago. If I’m honest, we weren’t excited about it then, but looking back I can see there were some among us who had the wrong thinking about our children.
In the past, our students looked like most of us, and came from middle class families with middle class values like most of us. This makes them easier to teach in some ways because you are starting from a common language. We didn’t consider cultural sensitivities, believing that “good teaching is good teaching for all students.” I certainly subscribed to that line of thinking, especially since my students were nearly legal adults. I didn’t really consider how a lesson might have different effects on the students depending on their backgrounds. When I realized that might be the case, I still wondered if it really mattered. I am not lowering my expectations of what students learn just because they are different from me. But the truth is many of my colleagues had done just that.
So we went to this training about a new grading style (which I was totally against, but that’s another story). One thing the facilitator discussed was the concept of scaffolding. I was paying attention, but really didn’t subscribe to the emotional reasons for considering this paradigm. Remember, I’m a former high school history teacher. Feelings weren’t part of my curriculumJ. I can’t remember exactly how his illustration went, but the guy said something like, “if your expectations are high, some of your students will not reach them.” He then proceeded to pull a chair over and stand on it. “Now the student can reach those expectations.”
I wasn’t so sure about this. I firmly believe that people will rise to the expectation you offer them- whether they are your children, your students, or your leaders in office. If you expect more out of people, then they will give you more. There have been far too many students who fall by the wayside, failing out of a class because no one ever told them they could do it.
But this chair thing did get me thinking. All students entering my class should be able to write a thesis statement and defend it with factual evidence. They’re juniors in high school for Pete’s sake! That wasn’t always the case though, so should they continue to be punished with poor grades until they figure it out? Telling them to go get extra help only works part of the time. The best teachers will give more time to retrain that child so he can be successful in his class. That extra help is the basis of one aspect of scaffolding. Don’t lower your expectations; give the child the help they need to reach those expectations.
I’m still a firm believer in high expectations, and I know that made a difference in my classroom. I believed they could do it, so they did. Temper that with a realization that they don’t all come to you at the same level, and mitigate for that, at least for a while, and our kids will be on the path to achieving beyond their own expectations.