This is starting to become a pattern. And I don't like it...
I recently read another article about teachers that was frustrating, to say the least, but again not surprising. This article may actually help explain my previous post about teacher diversity and student outcomes. It turns out that White teachers appear to have lower expectations of their students of color, specifically Black boys, than students who are also White. This worries me, and should worry everyone. I'll tell you why. This article highlights a significant problem that has been well documented. It's called the Pygmalion, or Rosenthal, Effect. Basically, it means that whatever someone's expectation is of you, that is the expectation that you will live up to. So if someone thinks you are a genius and will have your pick of Ivy League schools to attend then you are much more likely to live up to that standard. It also has a negative effect though. If the significant adults in your life think that you are much more likely to go to prison than to college, you are primed to live up to that standard too.
The School-to-Prison pipeline is real, people. Really really real.
This finding needs to matter to everyone - not just parents with kids of color. The way a teacher feels about his or her students impacts the way a classroom is run. It impacts how friendships are formed. It impacts the overall culture of the classroom. If the class subtly becomes an "us-vs-them" environment, there will be less collaboration and cooperation. Students won't learn as much from each other as they would in a more cohesive classroom environment. This matters for ALL students - not just Black and Brown.
So, I'm going to ask the obvious question: What the heck is going on? Are all White teachers racist and bad people? Should only Black people be teachers? Umm, no - looking at things that way is much too simplistic. If the answers to these questions were yes, then it would be a pretty easy problem to solve. But it's not. It's really really not.
In my opinion, I think a good place to start is to look at teacher training programs. How is diversity discussed? How is cultural competence developed in these programs? This is a subject that is near and dear to my heart. I wrote my dissertation on the multicultural competence development of school psychologists and let me just give you a quick nugget. My participants felt that their training programs did basically nothing to help them develop cultural competence. They felt they learned it on the job - almost entirely. But my participants worked in significantly diverse schools and school districts. What about those school psychologists who work in schools with very little diversity? How do they develop their cultural competence? And now the scarier question: Do they ever?
The same can and should be asked of our teachers. I am by no means blaming teachers - they, quite easily, have the hardest job on Earth and I don't fault them for much. And simply blaming teachers would, again, be much too simplistic. The problem is more complicated than that, but this is clearly an area that must be addressed. All teachers are expected to walk into a classroom with the basic skills to impart knowledge. But as the article articulates, they also need to walk in and know how to inspire and have faith in all of their students. Because according to the Pygmalion Effect, their students' success - ALL of their students - depends on it.
What do you think about this finding? Is it what you see in your child's school? Leave a comment below about what you have seen or heard.
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Dr. Sweeney is a licensed school psychologist and cultural competence expert. Here are her musings on life in a multicultural world.
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