Taking this example a step further, the less privileged student may increasingly perform poorly through lack of positive strokes from the teacher. This is supported by Weiner(1) who hypothesised that ‘individuals tend to attribute success or failure to either internal or external causes’.
A teacher who holds the above prejudice may perpetuate the myth. If indeed the less privileged student failed, a self-fulfilling prophecy is created if the teacher makes the assumption that poor performance is a natural consequence of socialisation. Such assumptions serve to create environments where some students will ‘fail’.
The notion that a student’s background will have some bearing on their intellectual capability is arguable and has been explored by social theorists, but if a teacher allows such assumptions to colour their thinking, discriminatory practice can be introduced into the learning environment, where ability is based on a subjective assessment of what makes a good or poor student. The logical conclusion based on such subjectivity is that students from deprived backgrounds will invariably either fail or need to work that much harder simply to keep up with their peers.
It is important that teachers do not allow their prejudices to have free rein in the classroom, because to do so may result in the development of discriminatory practices, which in turn could affect student performance. Teacher expectation (the expectancy process as defined by Rogers(2)) may well influence student performance, i.e. teachers form impressions of students, and on the basis of those impressions they derive expectations of student performance, creating responses in students which more closely match the teacher’s behaviour.
Teachers will be aware that they have a responsibility to encourage success, but the attitudes and values of a teacher can affect their students’ attitudes, expectations and attainments, and failure will invariably be their responsibility as well.
Have you experienced this scenario in the learning environment? If so, how did you deal with it?
(1) B.J.Weiner , An attributional Theory of Motivation and Emotion, Springer-Verlag, New York, 1986
(2) C. Rogers, A Social Psychology of Schooling, The Expectancy Process, Routledge & Keegan, London 1982