Do Teachers destroy many students’ careers by subtle behavioral cues?

This morning, NPR carried a very interesting story.  One that related Expectations the teachers have with students, Behavior of the Teachers towards the students, the subtle messaging that happens, and the results of the kids.

In one study, Harvard professor named Robert Rosenthal, did an experiment in a San Francisco school.  He took a standard IQ test – “Flanagan’s Test of General Ability” and covered it with a new label – saying it was a special Harvard IQ test which can predict which student will have the highest growth in IQ in future.  The team selected students who would have the dramatic IQ increases randomly and gave the names to the teachers.

What happened as a result of the fake input to teachers was remarkable:

As he followed the children over the next two years, Rosenthal discovered that the teachers’ expectations of these kids really did affect the students. “If teachers had been led to expect greater gains in I.Q., then increasingly, those kids gained more I.Q.,” he says.

Why did this change occur?  Because the teachers were unknowingly showing special attention to those kids.

As Rosenthal did more research, he found that expectations effect teachers’ moment-to-moment interactions with the children they teach in a thousand almost invisible ways. Teachers give the students that they expect to succeed more time to answer questions, more specific feedback, and more approval: They consistently touch, nod and smile at those kids more.

Our Own School Experience

Growing up in India and in a school where a teacher’s regular pet students would usually get all the attention and opportunities to participate, I can very well relate to this study.

What I find most interesting – in an anecdotal way but very widespread anecdotes – is that many students break away from their “level of performance” as soon as they got out of their schools.  I saw so many who jumped many notches when they went to the college level.  Why?  Because the relentless loop of Low Expectations > Lack of Opportunities > Lack of Motivation > Bad Results was not there anymore.  It was a fresh ground and fresh set of characters to deal with.  Whatever the person showed to them, that stuck!  A new set of expectations were delivered to the new teachers.

I also find it incredible that delimiting beliefs of the teachers can play havoc with futures of many a kids.  If someone had just told them that this kid is someone special, would that – just that! – have changed the course of a kid’s entire life graph?  Probably yes!

Robert Pianta, of the Curry School of Education in University of Virginia, said something that particularly caught my attention:

This is why Pianta thinks that to change beliefs, the best thing to do is change behaviors.

If you want to change a person’s Beliefs, it is critical that you change their Behavior!

The teachers – students relationship is one area.   But several more areas use this relationship.  For example:


the behaviors are changed and so the inherent belief and the patterns of a mind are changed.. leading to different behavior still which is more permanent.

Religious Conversions:

Those who indulge in religious conversions, make sure that new rituals are added to the daily life and behaviors of people, so their beliefs – inherent ones – will also change over time.  Permanently in most cases.  That is why rituals are so strongly emphasized on.

Your Experience of Teacher’s Behavior

Coming back to the topic.  Were you ever notice this Teacher’s expectations and behavior being related to your performance?  How?  Please share.

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