How Low Can Expectations Go?October 1, 2010
Middle managers are often annoyed by the way I provoke my students by foolishly trying to ensure they work hard and learn a lot. Here are some of the things I have been told in order to persuade me to lower my expectations:
1) They aren’t like us, they won’t learn.
2) They aren’t going to get their target grades.
3) They have different learning styles.
4) They need to have fun activities.
5) They can’t be expected to listen.
6) They just need to do old exam papers.
7) They can’t be expected to behave.
8) You have to reward them by giving them free time.
9) Even when you make them go quiet, it doesn’t mean they are listening.
10) They need to know you’re on their side and they won’t if you keep making them work.
As I write this list I imagine a critical reader (and there are many) thinking:
“What an awful teacher. He has unrealistically high expectations and doesn’t understand what kids are like.”
Or possibly even:
“He doesn’t like the kids, he just wants them to work hard. All the bad behaviour he mentions must be in his classes and be his fault”.
But then I think of the last few PGCE students who have taken some of my classes, every one of them has been hit in the face by the sheer unwillingness to learn or cooperate they face from the students, even from classes that I had got on track and learning.
And I think of the sort of advice I’ve given to these PGCE students:
“You can’t expect them to listen for that long. You can’t expect them to follow instructions you’ve only given once. You can’t expect them to just listen the first time you speak. You can’t expect them to work without being threatened. You can’t expect them to understand an activity that involves following more than three instructions. You can’t expect them to wait in silence when you aren’t talking to them.”
The fact is that while I am sickened by people telling me to lower my expectations to those that are normal in the schools I’ve worked in, my own expectations are probably still low compared with those of anybody who has never taught on the battleground. I can despair at how so many students in so many classrooms are expected to learn so little, but when it comes down to it, I have long since lowered my expectations below those that naïve outsiders would have. I have long since lowered my expectations below those that any half-decent parent would have. I have long since lowered my expectations below those that anyone who still thought schools were about learning would have. I wonder, if I left the battleground, would it be too late for me? Would I even know how to teach kids who want to learn and want to work?