We all want to be successful. There is just some natural instinct to want to be better than those that came before us. Many students come into our classrooms with the misconception that because their parents never attended college that it’s also not in their future. Prove them wrong and make them believe otherwise by implementing positive expectations in your classroom. By changing your students’ attitudes toward education, you are helping them change the path to their future without them even realizing it.
One of the very first lessons in life science is to teach students the basic needs of living things, but what sets us apart from all others in the animal kingdom is our complex brains and inherent drive for success. A successful classroom is attainable for any teacher at all grade levels and with any clientele of student.
The first step in the right direction is setting high positive expectations of which you yourself abide. When the teacher is optimistic and enthusiastic about what they teach, they will no doubt see an increase in student achievement. Be proud to hold one of the most noble titles—a teacher, and show your students that you want to be there. If you truly want your students to succeed, then you will make it happen because you will find ways to improve yourself and your instruction to benefit them.
Who seriously enjoys being around someone who is constantly negative? These people choose to focus all of their energy on what’s wrong instead of seeking solutions to fix their problems. The truth is that you will expend the same amount of energy being positive as you would by being negative, so why would anyone want to focus all of their efforts on their failures?
You can tell your students every day that you care, but it is not until you show them you care that they will they really believe you. When you set high positive expectations and actually give your students more than what they expect, you will see something in return (maybe more than you expected). Leading your students to believe they are special, even exceptional, will get them to work harder for you, and with hard work comes success. Call it the placebo effect if you want to, but it works!
If you set your expectations low, so will your students.
Pessimism permeates like cancer. Don’t believe me? Just sneak a peek into the teacher’s lounge or at an after-school faculty meeting and you will see exactly what I mean. These teachers who complain constantly and make excuses are usually ineffective and they are just looking for someone to justify their shortcomings. Misery loves company, so don’t associate with these pessimists if you have no desire to be miserable.
If you believe that you will fail, then you will. It’s just that simple. You are in control of your fate as an effective teacher because no one else will do the work for you.
Get the Parents On Your Side
I am a realist, so let me get real with you for just a moment. The reality is that regardless of all of the hard work you put into creating a positive classroom environment with positive expectations, you can’t control the negativity and low expectations that your students are exposed to outside of the four walls of your classroom, probably coming from their own parents.
Many of my students’ parents will not squawk at the sight of a D on a report card (D for diploma) and are proud of their daughter for not getting pregnant by the time she graduates. I can count on one hand how many parent conferences I have had as a high school teacher in the last five years. Don’t they care? Yes, for the most part, but the reason they are not rushing to the phone to call you or the computer to email you their concerns is because their expectations for their child are different from yours.
Children are so impressionable at an early age, and what parents and teachers convey to these children has a direct correlation to their success both in school and in life. If you teach your children that it’s OK to be a few minutes late to church on Sunday, then they will see nothing wrong with being tardy to class. See my point?
So, how can you get those parents on your side?
- Send a letter via mail or email (or both to expand your reach) BEFORE the first day of school. This letter is simply welcoming your students and expressing your excitement for the upcoming school year. Provide a brief introduction of yourself and your professional experience. Include your contact information. Attach a materials list of all of the items the student will need for the first day of class. This is not the time to talk about student expectations, but instead to highlight the positive expectations you have for yourself and for the upcoming school year.
- Participate in your school’s Meet and Greet or encourage your school to put on this event. Students are excited about the new school year, and they are just as excited about having a new teacher, so this is a great opportunity to introduce yourself to your students and their parents or guardians before the actual first day of school. Have copies of the welcome letter mentioned above just in case the one you sent never made it to their house or the email got sent back to you as “undeliverable.”
- Send a parent letter home on the first day of school with your syllabus. Express to the parents your enthusiasm for teaching their children. Include important dates, materials and what their student needs to be successful in your class. Highlight the importance of attending the school’s open house. Explain to the parents your classroom management plan and your discipline plan, your grading procedures and don’t forget to include your contact information.
I cannot express enough the impact positive expectations has had on my own classroom environment and the success it has brought me and my students. I have taught students living in the roughest neighborhoods in town born to non-existent parents and still graduate against all odds because I have taught them that success is still within their reach (and they believed me!)
You’ll know you’re doing something right when past students stop you in the grocery store to say hello or thank you (that one’s my favorite). You’ll know when a student hugs you at graduation and dedicates their diploma to you. You’ll know when a female student tells you that you’ve taught her that she can be both beautiful and smart. These are the greatest rewards, and they all start with positive expectations.