Guilty by association.

Guilty by association.

As educational attainment continues to lag in rural areas, so too do teachers’ academic expectations of their underperforming students. Having attended a very underpopulated, isolated high school myself, I became accustomed to witnessing such truths; lack of expectancy inherently de-motivates students and has a strong bearing on performance. I further found that when those anxiety inducing student-teacher interviews came around, lack of success was often attributed by parents and teachers as a reflection of student (in)abilities.

Now, don’t get me wrong, some of my fellow learned peers felt they had better ways to spend their time than sitting inside classrooms all day. But, for those who seriously attempted to engage and still received stereotypes as no-hopers, time wasters and class clowns (particularly adolescent males) – I have to criticise that such lack of ambition stemmed from my teachers’ underestimations and low expectations.

A teacher’s belief about whether students possess the capacity to perform at a higher standard plays a role in determining whether they will or not. When teachers display a belief in the academic abilities of students, it reinforces and strengthens the student’s confidence within themselves and enhances their chances of achievement. Bearing in mind that each respective circumstance is different and that I can only share my personal observations and experiences, the impact that my teachers’ low expectations had for the majority of my year 8 male classmates was irreparable. Anticipating that our teachers thought less of them during their most vulnerable, impressionable years, they were quick to demonstrate a negative, “f*ck it, why bother” attitude towards school life and beyond.

Social stigma also plays a harmful role in student potential. Living amidst a small town where neighbours were likely relatives and word of mouth spread quicker than the current COVID-19 pandemic, having a singular high school meant that teachers had likely taught parents and elder siblings too. Far too often, this family affiliation automatically set a standard of expectation for how a student was to behave, perform and achieve (or in this case, underperform and underachieve).

Using my older brother as a primary example – he was negatively stereotyped as having relatively low academic skills and an unmotivated, lazy attitude towards learning. In part, this was purely because he disengaged with the restricted curriculum on offer. When I transitioned from primary to secondary education, I was known as my brother’s sister and therefore carried the weight of this overwhelming pressure to defy the label he had stuck on my surname and embedded in my teacher’s minds. Digging myself out of that hole I was consistently reminded by my teachers during every occasion of how dissimilar my brother and I were – no way, what a surprise! Yet, for many of my peers experiencing the same social pressure, their ambitions and overall belief in themselves remained inhibited.

External factors, such as a teacher’s enthusiasm and expectations of their students, heavily influence a student’s behaviours and attitudes towards learning. Expectations determine the strategies, energy, persistence, time and resources educators are willing to invest in order to connect with, motivate and inspire success within their students. When students are motivated to actively engage with content, the quality of learning improves, as does their academic achievement and their prospect of attaining higher levels of education. It is therefore imperative that teachers do their best to adapt lessons to suit individuals and structure classroom content based on what motivates students, to accommodate a varying classroom dynamic.

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