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Examine the role of teacher expectations in student performance.


Education and inequality

 A Level/AS Level/O Level

Free Essay Outline

Briefly introduce the concept of teacher expectations and their potential impact on student performance. Mention key theories like the self-fulfilling prophecy (Pygmalion effect) and labelling theory.

How Teacher Expectations are Formed
Discuss factors influencing teacher expectations: Prior attainment data, class and ethnicity, gender stereotypes, appearance and behaviour. Use sociological studies and examples to illustrate.

Positive Impact of High Expectations
Explain how high expectations can lead to better student outcomes: Increased effort, motivation, self-belief. Mention Rosenthal and Jacobson's research.

Negative Impact of Low Expectations
Discuss how low expectations can be detrimental: Self-fulfilling prophecy, limited opportunities, lower self-esteem. Use examples like the 'Halo effect' and streaming.

Teacher Strategies and Interventions
Explore ways teachers can mitigate negative impacts and promote positive expectations: Setting challenging but achievable goals, providing individualised support, using formative assessment.

Evaluation and Conclusion
Critically evaluate the complexity of the issue. Acknowledge limitations of sociological research on teacher expectations and highlight the role of other factors (e.g., student agency, home environment) in shaping student performance. Conclude with a balanced statement on the significant role teacher expectations play in student outcomes.

Free Essay 

The expectations teachers hold for their students can have a profound impact on those students' academic performance. This concept, known as the Pygmalion effect or self-fulfilling prophecy, suggests that teachers' beliefs about their students' abilities can influence how they interact with them and ultimately shape those students' achievements. While high expectations can foster a positive learning environment, low expectations can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy where students underperform because they are perceived as lacking ability. This essay will examine the complexity of teacher expectations, exploring how they are formed, the potential impact they have on student performance, and strategies teachers can employ to mitigate negative effects and promote positive outcomes.

How Teacher Expectations are Formed
A teacher's expectations are not formed in a vacuum. Several factors contribute to their initial perceptions of students, which can be both conscious and unconscious. One significant factor is prior attainment data. Teachers may be provided with previous academic records, including standardized test scores and grades, which can influence their early judgments about students' abilities. However, reliance on such data can be problematic, as it may not capture the full picture of a student's potential. For example, students who may have struggled in previous schools or who come from disadvantaged backgrounds may be unfairly labeled based on their past performance.
Furthermore, teachers' expectations can be shaped by stereotypes related to students' class, ethnicity, or gender. Studies have shown that teachers may have lower expectations for students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds or from certain ethnic groups, which can lead to a cycle of underachievement. Similarly, gender stereotypes can influence teachers' expectations, leading to girls being encouraged to focus on subjects traditionally perceived as feminine and boys being channeled towards STEM fields.
A student's appearance and behavior can also play a role in shaping teacher expectations. Teachers may unconsciously favor students who are well-dressed, polite, and actively participate in class. In contrast, students who are perceived as disruptive or lacking in motivation may be met with lower expectations. The "halo effect" can also influence teacher perceptions, where positive qualities or achievements in one area, such as athleticism, may lead to higher expectations in academic performance.

Positive Impact of High Expectations
Research has consistently shown that high teacher expectations can have a positive impact on student performance. When teachers believe their students are capable of achieving high standards, they are more likely to challenge them with rigorous assignments, provide them with more support and feedback, and offer opportunities for growth. This can lead to increased student effort, motivation, and self-belief.
A classic study by Rosenthal and Jacobson (1968) demonstrated the power of the Pygmalion effect. They told teachers that specific students were "bloomers" with high potential, even though this was randomly assigned. The teachers treated these students differently, giving them more attention, praise, and challenging opportunities. At the end of the year, the "bloomer" students showed significant academic improvement compared to those randomly assigned to the control group. This research highlights how teacher beliefs can become self-fulfilling prophecies, positively or negatively impacting student performance.

Negative Impact of Low Expectations
Conversely, low teacher expectations can have detrimental effects on student performance. When teachers believe students are incapable of success, they may not provide them with the same level of support, challenge, or opportunities as those they perceive as high achievers. This can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy where students underperform because they are expected to do so.
Low expectations can also have a negative impact on student self-esteem and motivation. Students who are constantly told they are not capable may start to internalize these messages and lose confidence in their abilities. They may become less engaged in learning, disengage from class, and ultimately achieve less than their potential.
Another negative consequence of low expectations is the practice of streaming, where students are grouped based on their perceived ability. Streaming can create a self-fulfilling prophecy as students in lower streams may receive fewer high-quality resources, be given less challenging work, and be taught by teachers who hold lower expectations. This can limit their opportunities for academic growth and create a sense of inferiority.

Teacher Strategies and Interventions
While teacher expectations are a powerful factor in student performance, they are not immutable. Teachers can employ a variety of strategies to mitigate negative impacts and promote positive expectations for all students.
One key strategy is to set challenging but achievable goals for all students. Teachers should avoid labeling students as "low" or "high" achievers and instead focus on individual progress and growth. Providing individualized support, based on each student's needs and learning styles, is another critical element in fostering positive expectations. Teachers can also use formative assessment regularly to monitor student progress and adjust their teaching strategies accordingly.
It is crucial for teachers to create a positive and supportive learning environment where all students feel valued and respected. They should avoid using negative language, focusing on growth and effort rather than just ability. Teachers can also encourage students to take ownership of their learning by setting their own goals and participating in self-assessment.

Evaluation and Conclusion
The relationship between teacher expectations and student performance is complex and multifaceted. While research has highlighted the power of teacher expectations, it is important to acknowledge that other factors, such as student agency, home environment, and socioeconomic status, also play a significant role in shaping student outcomes. It is impossible to isolate the impact of teacher expectations from these other variables.
Despite the limitations of isolating the impact of teacher expectations, the evidence suggests that they can be a powerful force for good or ill. However, it is crucial to recognize that teacher expectations are not deterministic. Students are not simply passive recipients of teachers' beliefs; they are active agents in their learning. Ultimately, the success of any intervention aimed at influencing teacher expectations depends on the commitment of teachers to create equitable and supportive learning environments where all students are valued and encouraged to reach their full potential.
In conclusion, teacher expectations play a crucial role in shaping student performance, and their influence can be both positive and negative. Teachers must strive to develop high expectations for all students while being mindful of the factors that may contribute to lower expectations for certain groups. Through conscious effort and effective strategies, teachers can create learning environments that foster positive self-belief and empower students to achieve their full potential.


Rosenthal, R., & Jacobson, L. (1968). Pygmalion in the classroom: Teacher expectation and pupils' intellectual development. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

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