Kids’ reputations often precede them as they move from grade to grade, with teachers giving each other a heads up about who’s a troublemaker and who’s likely to ace every assignment.
But Brooke Perry, a sixth-grade teacher in the Kent School District, says she’s learned to keep an open mind about her students, regardless of what she’s heard about them, according to a recent post she wrote reflecting on her first month of the new school year for the Puget Sound Educational Service District.
Full disclosure: kids change. Here’s another hard hitting fact: not all student-teacher relationships are created equal. Because of these two things, I’m come to understand that I cannot rely solely on word of mouth, and that it is absolutely paramount to allow time to build your own unique relationship with your new students, before passing judgment.
Word of mouth is not the only way that teachers can form misleading snap judgments about students.
Teachers are subject to the same sorts of unconscious mental shortcuts we humans rely on to size up people and situations, said Esther Quintero in a series of posts about such biases and teaching last spring for the Albert Shanker Institute’s blog.
For example, we tend to give more weight to our first impressions, which “suggests that something a student does on the first day of class may have more influence on the teacher than subsequent student behavior,” Quintero said.
She suggests some apps and other tools for teachers to keep track of behavior throughout the year, so that an unfortunate episode on the first day of school doesn’t become so vivid in a teacher’s memory that she forgets about all the times later in the year when the student behaved well.
Teachers also can play a big role in helping students overcome the snap judgments they make about each other, according to Quintero, a senior research fellow at the Institute, a nonprofit think tank named after the late president of the American Federation of Teachers.
Students tend to believe and respect the evaluations that teachers make of them. Thus, if the teacher publicly commends a low status student for being strong on a particular (and real) ability, that student will tend to believe the evaluation. At the same time, the other students in the classroom are likely to accept the evaluation as valid. Once this happens, the expectations for the student’s competence — as well as his/her relative status in the classroom — can rise dramatically, which is likely to result in increased activity and influence of the low status student as well as increased success in future classroom tasks.