Students often arrive in my classroom believing the outside world expects them to fail. Through TV and other media, my students are constantly bombarded with the idea that success for them is the exception, not the rule. I teach at a low-income school, and while this mentality can be pervasive among my students, it isn’t only in schools like mine. Regardless of where a teacher works, there are students who believe they aren’t capable of success. However, the more time I’ve spent in the classroom, the more I’ve seen the unique opportunity educators have to help students break free of their own low expectations and begin to believe they are capable of greatness. How do teachers shift a student’s mind-set? It starts by changing their own. A teacher is a powerful force in a student’s life. How we treat our students and what our students believe we expect from them can transform students’ thinking. If students believe a teacher just wants them to try to do their best, the bar is too low. I don’t
want my students to do well and show me they are capable of greatness. Instead, I
expect it, and not just of those students showing initiative but from every student in my class. Expecting greatness from every student can seem daunting, I know. During my first year of teaching, as the challenges of working in a low-performing school piled on, I saw myself asking less of certain students. I felt that some students just would not engage in school, no matter what I did. However, I quickly realized that lowering the bar for these students wasn’t the answer. This would only further feed their perception that adults don’t expect them to excel. As their teacher, it was my responsibility to show them that I didn’t just want them to succeed—I expected it. Now, when students tell me that I’m asking too much of them, that the work is too hard, or that they aren’t smart enough, I remember it’s my responsibility to push them farther than they think they can go and expect success from every one of them. It is my duty as an educator to be so devoted to each student’s achievements that it may seem like an obsession or even completely irrational. However, educators must stay the course even when it seems a student is beyond reaching. We must make it our mission to be the adult in a student’s life who always expects them to excel. Everything I do in my classroom is focused on this belief, from the words I say to the tone I use. Every action in my classroom is designed to communicate to my students that I expect greatness from all of them. I bring this mentality into the classroom knowing that even though I will push every student, I may not be the teacher who sees them succeed. I know I’m just one small part of my students’ education. However, if I can be a teacher who expects greatness from them, I have planted a seed that they can take with them to the next teacher. Educators must remember that we hold a unique place in our students’ lives. For many of them, we may be the only adult in their life who has graduated from college or completed graduate school. We are an example of the professional and educational possibilities that are within their grasp. When someone who has gone to college tells you that they know you can do the same, it carries weight. By expecting our students to succeed, educators can begin to help our students achieve more than they ever thought possible.
Tunji Adebayo is a teacher at View Park Preparatory Charter High School in Los Angeles and a member of
Educators 4 Excellence-Los Angeles, a teacher-led education policy and advocacy nonprofit.