The Substitute Teacher Guide to Positive Expectations in the Classroom
Why is it So Important to Have Positive Expectations?
Children have a remarkable ability to “read” a teacher’s attitude. They can size you up instantly. Your tone of voice, your body language, the way you walk, and the way you look all contribute to your image. If the image you project is positive, your students will pick up on your confidence, warmth, and acceptance and respond in kind.
Positive expectations establish a positive classroom culture. You expect the students to do their very best. You are so sure of your positive opinion of the class that there is no question that the students will perform well for you. And because the students know that they’ll be rewarded for good work (even if the rewards are only a smile and a kind word), they’ll try hard to earn your praise.
How Can You Show Students that You Have Positive Expectations for Them?
There are specific things you can say and do that lead to a positive expectations culture. Two vignettes might help illustrate.
- A colleague, Jan McCoy, once told me that on the first day of school she always told her fifth-grade class, “Right now, you all have an A in every subject! All you have to do is to keep it that way, and I think you can!”
- Another colleague, Carlos Aguilar, took a long-term subbing assignment for a middle school math teacher. One of his students, Andrea, came up to his desk one day during study hall.
“Mr. Aguilar, I’ve always hated math, and geometry was impossible for me. But since you took over our class, I’m sort of getting it. A little, at least.”
Carlos smiled. “Well, you’re a very smart girl, Andrea. I think you’re going to do very well in geometry. In fact, I know you are!”
In the first vignette, Jan McCoy could have said the usual things, “you’ll have to work hard to get an A.” Or worse, “only the very best students get A’s in my class.” But she didn’t. Instead she let every student know that they were A material (even if they weren’t) and implied, without ever saying it, that an A grade was theirs to lose and that hard work would allow them to keep it.
In the second vignette, Carlos Aguilar used positive expectations in a very effective way. But before he could do that, he had to project a positive attitude that convinced Andrea he liked her. He was always helpful, never critical. As a consequence, and in order to please a teacher she liked, Andrea studied her geometry each night. Carlos called on her often, and Andrea liked the response when she gave the right answer! The praise that she received built up her confidence.
Earlier I mentioned that one of the most gratifying aspects of being a substitute teacher is that you can give each student a “fresh start.” This is particularly true for those students who feel no connection with the classroom teacher. By using positive expectations, you can let these students believe that you are genuinely interested in them. They will eagerly rise to the occasion.
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