The positive effects of high teacher expectations are never ending. They move with the student beyond the schoolhouse and the school years; and, they reach far into the student’s future.
The powers of teacher expectations – be they positive or negative – have the potential to stay with a student for life. My 87-year-old mother, who fortunately had teachers who had very high expectations for her, speaks of her grade-school teachers to this very day, as if she sat under their instruction yesterday or earlier that morning. This reflection on her teachers is not age-related. She has been having these reflections and conversations consistently for well over 60 years. In fact, when she was the daycare mother for practically all her children’s children, she taught them the same children's songs that she was taught by her grade-school teachers. She also transferred the old-school behavioral expectations to her grandchildren.
The significance of the commonly used phrase, “teachers touch the future,” is lost in its casual and common use in society today. I am here to say, having no doubt in my mind that teachers really do touch the future.
It has been known for as long as civilization itself. There is everlasting power in the expectations that teachers have for their students to be successful with assigned academic tasks, and life-related tasks in general.
I attended the funeral of my fourth-grade math teacher, Mrs. D.D. Brown. It was at her funeral that I learned that the Ds represented her first and middle names. Now as an adult, when I think about Mrs. D.D. Brown, the Ds could have easily stood for what she endeavored to instill in her students: Determination and Development. (A third D could be attached to Mrs. D.D. Brown: Dedication.
As a student, I never activated my wonder about what the Ds in her name represented, because that would have been too close to speaking her first and middle names her first names in the hearing range of other students, and risk someone speaking it without the appropriate handle, and it be traced back to me. Calling a teacher by first name would beg for major disciplinary actions at school and at home. During those days, a student’s infraction would arrive home before the students existed the big yellow bus; or before they could complete their walk home. It was amazing how word traveled so efficiently without the aid of technology.
The last time that I spoke with Mrs. Brown was at a church breakfast. She had noticed my name on a church sign that I would be speaking. She sat in the back of the assembly, taking visual notes. After noticing several unreserved positive head gestures of approval, I collected enough bravery to invite her to give me a public grade on the speech.
“I give you an A+,” Mrs. Brown responded in her signature scholarship and sophistication.
Before services began, one of my female schoolmates (whom I had not seen since the elementary school days at Jefferson) shared how Mrs. Brown would take her to the Brown’s home on the weekend to go shopping for clothes. She shared that Mrs. Brown was aware of their family struggles and wanted show concern. She said Mrs. Brown had high expectation for her. She said she went years thinking that she was the teacher’s pet until she discovered later that practically everyone in the class had been the teacher’s pet at one time or another. Mrs. Brown shared the love among all of her students.
One of the first steps to take to demonstrate high expectations is to be exceptional and intentional in the art and practice of teaching. The effective teacher is well-prepared to deliver learning-enhancing lessons. Learning-enhancing lessons are lessons that have been specifically designed to take a student to mastery, and then from the mastery of one concept or skill to the next, sequenced-based skill.
Students respond to high expectations when opportunities have been strategically planned to enable them to achieve success during the process of learning. Contrary to the thinking of many, students prefer to be held accountable.