Do We Really Believe All Students Matter?

I do not know any teacher who consciously discriminates against any student for any reason.  If you ask a teacher, she will say, “I treat all students well!  I want them all to learn!”

In my experience, this is true – all teachers believe they want all students to learn.

Despite this, there is a persistent achievement gap between Black and Brown students and Caucasian students. 

We know for a fact that there is no difference in the brains of people. One cannot tell if a brain comes from a person who is Black, Brown, white, male, or female. While there may be individual differences in a person’s ability to learn, that ability is not dictated by the color of the person’s skin or by the person’s gender.

So what is the issue?

We have known something that makes an astounding difference in the education and IQs of students since 1964.  It is called the Pygmalion Effect or the Rosenthal Effect after the Harvard researcher who “discovered” it.

Elisabeth Caren | Pygmalion And Galatea | 1

In Greek myth, Pygmalion was a sculptor.  He crafted a sculpture of a woman that was so lifelike he yearned to make her his wife.  His belief in her reality was so great that Galatea, as he had named the sculpture, came to life.

What Rosenthal discovered was that when teachers believe children are capable, or even more capable than they have previously demonstrated, they blossom.  Further, the children’s tested IQ increase dramatically.  The greatest increases happened with the youngest children.  In fact, some of the first graders in his experiment increased their IQ by 27 points!

Sadly, the converse is true.  Students whose teachers believed they were less capable fell further and further behind.

This has been studied many times since the 1960s.  It has changed many things about education.  Teachers are taught they must have high expectations.   The coursework required of prospective teachers has increased dramatically as well.  The underlying purpose of these changes is to better prepare the prospective teachers for the classroom, and to ensure that they have the knowledge of subject matter needed to model those high expectations.

The problem is it is not teacher knowledge of subject matter that increases high expectations for students.  It is the teacher’s behavior.

I have listened to numerous teachers in three states talk about students.  None believed they had low expectations.  So how do I know they thought of some students as less capable than others?

Two People Talking Transparent , Free Transparent Clipart - ClipartKey

There are clues in what the educators said.  For example:

  • Her parents just don’t care.
  • He comes from serious poverty.
  • Her family doesn’t speak much English.
  • His home life is really chaotic.
  • She comes from a broken home.
  • He is my behavior student.
  • She is my learning disabled student.
  • We have a very high number of free and reduced lunch students.
  • This is a Title I school.

I have heard all of these statements offered as a reason why a student is not learning.

Yes, none of the situations above are fun, and they can affect students’ emotional well-being.  But they do not limit the ability of the student to learn.

Research has shown that teachers make unconscious decisions about the ability of students.  They categorize them as “capable” or “less capable”. 

The result is that the teacher treats students s/he thinks of more “capable” differently than s/he treats those s/he thinks of as less capable.

Here is a table that shows the behaviors:

Teacher Actions“Capable” Students“Less Capable” Students
Calling on studentsCalls on oftenCalls on less often even when has hand raised
Wait timeGives significantly more wait timeGives significantly less wait time
Types of questions askedTends to ask “thinking” questions; higher level thinking (Bloom’s Taxonomy) questionsTends to ask “recall” type questions; lower level (Bloom’s Taxonomy) questions
Allowing correctionsWill prompt student if s/he is wrong Will allow student to correct him/herselfWill move on to another student if s/he is wrong
Praising studentsPraises student for academic-oriented behaviorsPraises student for compliance to classroom rules or procedures
Helping students who don’t understandAsks student prompting questions, for example:  “What do you do first?  Now, what do you do next?  How will you know . . .”Demonstrates how to do task
Does the problem for student (e.g. math)
Gives student answer
Greeting studentsGreets students by name Talks with students about interests and activities Tone of voice sincere, warmMay nod
May not say anything May use backhanded compliment (“I wondered if you’d show up today.”) Tone of voice neutral or sarcastic
Informal conversationsPauses to talk with student about interests or activities Listens to all of student’s storyPauses for conversation less often
Cuts student off Suggests student finish story later
Eye ContactMakes frequent eye contactRarely makes eye contact

In short, the teacher creates a warmer, more welcoming classroom climate for the students s/he has unconsciously categorized as capable, than s/he does for students in the “less capable” category.

Children Having Their Exam

Let me be very, very clear:  rarely, if ever, do teachers do any of this consciously!  Nonetheless, researchers have repeatedly observed teachers engaging in these behaviors. 

I have observed this myself in classrooms from elementary to high school – and in every single case, the teacher was one who worked hard at teaching, who focused on student learning, and who believed s/he treated every student equitably. However, s/he did not do what s/he thought s/he was doing.

Research has pointed out several factors that influence teacher’s thoughts about whether or not a student is capable or less capable. 

  • Having black or brown skin
  • Speaking a language other than English at home
  • Being labeled as having dyslexia or dyscalculia
  • Receiving Title I services
  • Having a 504 plan
  • Having a physical disability such as being hard of hearing
  • Wearing dirty or ill-fitting clothes
  • Having poor hygiene
  • Living in “that” part of town
  • Transferring from a rural or urban school to a suburban school, or an urban school in the “right” part of town
  • Being a member of a different religion or denomination than the majority of students
  • Being less mature than peers, for example, thumb-sucking or crying about hurt feelings
  • Being overweight
  • If male, being smaller than peers; if female, being larger than peers
  • Having parents who are divorced or who have never married
  • Having parents who work blue-collar or pink-collar jobs

If you are like me, about now you are thinking, “OMG!  Am I doing this?  What can I do to change this?”

When I first learned about this research, I looked at the list of behaviors and felt overwhelmed. I could not change everything all at once. So I thought about which behaviors I thought would most likely affect learning.  I decided to focus on how I asked questions.  I put a class list on a clip board and made a tally mark by each student’s name when I called on him/her.  I did this for each of my classes.  (I was teaching middle school at the time.)

It would have been undoubtedly better to ask a colleague to come in and do this kind of tally for me.  If you are in a school with an instructional coach, they may be just the person to help.

What I discovered was that I was calling on some students more often than others!  Worse, when I looked at who I was calling on, I couldn’t help but think, “Oh, I asked so-and-so that question because I figured he could answer it.”  Yikes!

Popsicle Sticks and 'Hands Down' are not Cold Call: Key ...

I thought I might force myself to make changes if I had a system to randomly call on students.  I know some teachers use popsicle sticks for this.  However, I felt popsicle sticks had disadvantages.  First of all, the can with the sticks was not as portable as I wanted it to be.  Second, I’d seen some teachers who made a production out of choosing a stick so it was slow.  And last, popsicle sticks seemed too “little kid” for my big middle school students.

What I needed was something that was portable, fast, and would not be offensive to middle school students.

I decided to make a card for every student.  I cut 3”x5” index cards in half and wrote a student’s name on each card. 

At that point I realized that if I had only one card per student, the student was likely to listen only until his/her name came up.  Then s/he would tune out until everyone else was called upon.

I made another set of cards.  This meant that every class had a deck of cards, and every deck of cards had each class member’s name in it twice. 

I taught the students the procedure:

  • I will ask a question.
  • Do not raise your hands.
  • I will give wait time.
  • I will turn up a card.  That student will answer or say pass.
    • If the student says, “pass” his/her name is put into the middle of the deck so s/he knows s/he will be called on again soon.
    • If the student’s answer is wrong, s/he gets a chance to correct him/herself or the card goes into the middle of the deck.

I had my system.  It was portable – in fact it fit into the pocket of my pants or blazer.  I could shuffle the cards in front of the students so they knew I wasn’t targeting anyone.  I could turn up cards quickly.  I used humor with it so those delicate middle school egos were not bruised unduly.

(I enlisted the help of the classes to help make sure I was providing an equal amount of wait time.  But that’s another story!)

You may choose to address a different behavior.  I hope you will share those ideas here!

Teachers can make students think of learning as something worthy and attainable, or they can make students believe they are incapable of learning.  It is easy to do the latter.  We even do that without conscious thought!  It is more difficult to make sure that ALL think of learning as something they can do.  Yet educators can, and must make sure we do this for every single child.  Every.  Single,  Child.

Works Consulted

  • Katherine, Ellison. “Being Honest About the Pygmalion Effect.” Discover Magazine. October 28, 2015. (accessed June 15, 2020).
  • Rosenthal, R, and L. Jacobsen. Pygmalion in the classroom: teacher expectation and pupils’ intellectual development. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1968.
  • Sadkur, Myra, and David Sadkur. Failing at Fairness: How America’s Schools Cheat Girls. New York: Simon and Shuster, Inc., 1994.
  • Spiegel, Alex. “Teachers’ Expectations Can Influence How Students Perform.” NPR. September 17, 2012. (accessed June 15, 2020).


This past Monday I had surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff.
As of this writing, I have eleven more day in this sling, then four weeks of physical therapy. I am only able to write with one hand. I apologize for not writing a blog post. I will be back at it when I can use both hand again. You can see posts I share from other writers on my Facebook page, Roe’s Rules.

Decades of Progress

International Women’s Day was March 8.  Contrary to what some commercials seem to say, it is not a day to wear pink ruffles and feel nurturing.  It was started in 1909 as a celebration of women’s rights, and a way to advocate for more rights.  The rights women agitated for at that time included being paid equal to men and the right to vote.

By 1900, women made up 75% of teachers.  High schools were not as common as grades 1-8.  Many schools had turned to female teachers in an effort to save money.  At that time, women could be paid a fraction of what a man was paid, and they could be expected to clean the school as well.

In many areas, a woman could receive a teaching permit by passing a series of tests.  In addition, she had to have people attest to her “deportment”, her behavior in the community.  She was expected to dress modestly, avoid spending time with men especially if there was no chaperone, attend church, and remain single.  She could be fired at the first hint of “immorality”.

I was not born in 1900 even though many of my students seemed to think I was a contemporary of Moses.  I have, however lived through some significant changes in education with regards to women’s rights.  In honor of International Women’s Day I would like to outline some of the changes I’ve seen during my lifetime.  In addition, I would like to remind readers that none of these changes came from above.  They were won by teachers fighting for those rights through their unions and, in some cases, through lawsuits.

When I was in high school, girls were required to wear dresses to school.  We can thank Mary Ann Tinker , her brother, and her parents for filing a lawsuit against the Des Moines Board of Education for changes to the dress code.  The Supreme Court’s ruling was the “students do no leave their Constitutional rights at the school house gate”. 

Mary Beth Tinker and her brother

This ruling affected many areas of schooling.  For example, I was not allowed to take a drafting class in high school because drafting was for boys only, and, according to the teacher, “Your short skirts would distract the boys.”  Girls were not allowed to take shop classes and boys did not take home economics classes.  In the latter, we girls were taught to sew, cook, clean, and care for children.  Shop and drafting classes were expected to teach boys skills they could use to get a job right out of high school. 

In Illinois, I was not allowed to do certain jobs or play sports because of what was called “protective legislation”.  That is, the state had passed laws that were supposedly designed to protect a woman’s smaller size and reproductive abilities.  In the grocery store where I worked, I was not allowed to stock shelves, a higher paying job than working the cash register, because it would have required lifting more than 25 pounds, the limit placed on women.  Playing sports would damage our ability to have babies, or so the lawmakers said.  We could watch Iowa girls playing basketball and softball on TV, but Illinois would not allow it.

It was not until I was out of high school, in 1972, that Title 9 was passed.  Among other things, Title 9 said that girls had to have equal opportunities for sports.  Girls did not have to have the exact same sports available to them, but they needed to have something so that there was balance.  For example, boys played football while girls played volleyball. 

Schools were supposed to provide equal amounts of money to each sport.  Some schools got around this requirement by using booster clubs to pay for “additional” expenses. 

It was not until 1974 that female teachers won the right to be visibly pregnant in the classroom.  Prior to the Supreme Court’s decision in Cleveland Board of Education v. LaFleur, most school districts required women to stop teaching before the 4th month of pregnancy and to remain on leave until the child was a specified age.  Usually women were not guaranteed to be reinstated in the classroom.  Instead, they were supposedly given “given priority in reassignment to a position for which she is qualified”.  In other words, before the Supreme Court ruled on this, a woman had to quit teaching if she became pregnant and she couldn’t count on getting her job back again even with the required doctor’s certificate that she was healthy enough to work.

Newspaper article explaining the 1974 Supreme Court decision.

When I applied for my first job in 1978, I had several shocks. 

The first came during my first interview.  I met with the superintendent of schools.  There was no committee or model lesson to teach.  It was just the two of us with him asking questions and me nervously answering.  I needed this job to support my husband and me!  I was stunned when he asked me what kind of birth control I used.  I must have looked at him strangely because he explained that he didn’t want to hire someone who would be going on maternity leave right away.

Now, that question is considered illegal.  And he would not have asked it if I were not married.  Why?  Because an unmarried teacher was not allowed to be pregnant at all.

The latter situation was covered under what were called “morality clauses” in teaching contracts.  In these, signing the contract showed the teacher’s agreement to not do anything that was considered immoral by public standards of the time.  Immoral behavior could mean becoming a single mother, living with a man she was not married to, drinking or becoming drunk in public, or even public displays of affection.  It could mean wearing one’s skirts “too short”, or clothing that was too tight.  It could mean being gay, being arrested, taking part in political demonstrations, having an extramarital affair, or talking back to the principal.  In short, immorality could mean anything the school board said it meant.

Many teachers learned to live outside the school district, and to be very careful when in public.  Nonetheless, I received a reprimand from the Board during my first year as a principal in the 90s.  I was painting my office and needed some supply or other.  I ran out to WalMart wearing my paint-covered, grubby clothes.  This was not, the Board said, the way a principal behaved.

When researching for this blog post, I was surprised but not shocked to find that in many states even today teachers may be dismissed for not conforming to the community’s “morals”.

States (shown in red) with Education Laws that Include Morality Clauses

Dress codes continued to be strict for at least another decade after that embarrassing first interview.  Female teachers had to wear skirts or dresses, which meant wearing nylons and “appropriate” footwear.  Some places were so strict that I learned to take out three of my five earrings as having multiple ear piercings could be construed as too racy.  There was no getting away with other piercings, or visible tattoos.  And one could not wear denim except on very special occasions.  When I moved to a district that allowed women to wear “dress slacks”, I felt like I’d been given a marvelous gift!

A Fourth Grade Class in the 1960s

After I got divorced, I could not get insurance for my son through my work.  The policy was set up for singles or for families, and a mother and son were not considered a family.  Birth control was not paid for through my prescription drug coverage until we entered the 21st century!

We still have not achieved equal pay for teachers from PK to 12.  The gap is closing and is much narrower than when I first began teaching.  Back then we were told that elementary children are easy to work with and that to teach high school one needs more education.  Even then that argument didn’t hold much water.  To the best of my knowledge, we haven’t had elementary teachers who got their teaching license after attending a two year school – the equivalent of an AA.  When I first became a principal, I had a couple of elementary teachers who had such degrees, but they were ready to retire.  Yes, high school teachers take more in-depth classes in a single subject, but elementary teachers take more classes in more subjects and more in-depth classes in pedagogy.  I think anyone would be hard pressed to try to argue one was a more difficult job than the other.

1984 United Federation of Teachers Newspaper Ads Advocating Increased Teacher Pay

Unions have helped a lot to achieve parity between the grade levels!

There is still a lot of difference between the pay principals at each level receive.  Women are still under-represented in administration, and because individual principals negotiate their contracts individually, they can still be offered less than a male counterpart.  In one district I was told that the brand new elementary principal would be receiving half again as much money as I was making even though I was working with a higher grade level and I had four years of experience.  I was told flat out that the difference was that I was a single woman and he had a family to support.  I don’t think anyone would be that blatant to say it so blatantly now.  At least I hope not.

Despite many advances, women are paid less than men in almost all areas.

Things have changed a lot for women since 1900, and I’ve only been around to see a fraction of those changes.  I haven’t even touched on things like women’s suffrage, the laws that finally allowed women to own property in their own right, being allowed to have a credit card in our name, or being allowed to prepare for any career we want. I haven’t mentioned the college professors who brushed women aside saying we were in college only to get our MRS (to get married). I haven’t mentioned the constant struggle women felt when it seemed everything in the world was against us. I’ve only brushed the surface with my little trip through educational changes.  I probably forgot a lot more of them!

I didn’t describe how difficult the struggles were to achieve those changes.  Just think about it:  It took the better part of a century to do this, and it has taken the last 50 years to make most of the changes I’ve described.  It would be very easy to lose the gains we’ve made.  Think of that when you listen to the news or when your local district negotiates its next contract or when your state contemplates making changes to education law.

Can You Change Mid-Year?

Winter weather has certainly disrupted schools here in the Midwest.  Our local school district has had 8 snow days so far and a friend whose school is a bit farther north has missed 12 days!  Teachers know this means more than simply missing almost two or almost three weeks of classes.  Missing school for any reason means that students of any age get out of step with our best laid classroom management plans. 

Even during a school year where there are no weather cancellations, students can get out of step.  Or a teacher can discover that something that sounded like such a good idea at the beginning of the school year just isn’t working the way s/he thought it would, or, worse, s/he realizes that she hasn’t followed that plan consistently.

What can a teacher do?  Is it ever okay to change the plan in the middle of the year?

The short answer is yes, although it is a bit more complicated than that.

The first thing to do is to determine if the problem is really the classroom management plan or if it is the number of days we’ve missed. 

Any time students are out of school can lead to students forgetting or getting out of practice with classroom procedures, routines, or expectations.  In fact, at the beginning of a school year, I recommend that teachers begin by going over expected procedures daily for the first week, then each Monday for a few weeks.  After that, it is a good idea to review after each school vacation, or after school cancelations. 

I can almost hear some readers saying, “Well, they should remember that!”  Maybe they should, but their brains are not as mature as the teacher’s adult brain is.  Remember, on average, our brains do not fully mature until age 26, so we cannot expect students to have the judgment that older adults have even if they look all grown up,

If you decide that the problem is not the amount of time that the students have been away from the classroom, then it is time to decide if the issue is consistency.

Educators know consistency is key to so much of what we do in the classroom!  It is very easy for a teacher to be inconsistent with a procedure!  It doesn’t make us bad people or poor teachers.  It just means we are human.  

If you’ve decided the procedure hasn’t had a fair chance to succeed because of inconsistency, the next step is to decide if you are inconsistent because you are just human, or if the problem is really that it doesn’t fit the class or you. 

If the problem is any reason other than really needing a new procedure, it is time to do the following:

  • Point out that X procedure hasn’t been being followed
    • Apologize if you have not been consistent
    • Blame the number of days out of school if that is the problem
  • Review the procedure, step-by-step
  • Have the class practice the procedure
    • If students practice it well, use praise and encouragement to reinforce it
    • If students do not do the procedure as planned, have them practice it again.

If the problem is that the procedure doesn’t fit your style, is too complicated, or just doesn’t work for any reason other than the above, then it is time to come up with a new procedure. 

It would be a good idea to ask the class, especially if they are older than kindergarten through second grade, for their input into planning the new procedure.  You can, of course, steer the class conversation to doing it in a particular way, but asking for input can mean that students have a greater buy-in for the procedure.

Teaching a procedure

The bottom line here is that, yes, you can change how you do things in the classroom at any time during the year.  You can pick back up procedures that have fallen by the wayside or you can create entirely new ways of doing things.  The main thing is to make sure you follow the three steps to teaching anything new:  teach, practice, and reinforce. 

Help for Working with THAT KID

Does this sound familiar?

You cringed just a little when you saw that name on your class lists.  You’ve heard from last year’s teachers about THAT KID, and the news wasn’t good.  You sigh, and think, “Okay, I will do my best and hope that over the summer THAT KID grew up a bit or learned to behave.”

The school year starts and you’ve prepared well.  Things start out pretty well, but THAT KID has crossed the line a few times already.  You give the consequences you’ve specified in your discipline plan, but THAT KID doesn’t seem to care and continues to push the limits.  You’ve called home but the parents were hostile and defensive.  You’ve sent THAT KID to the office, but that didn’t help.  Your stress level increases.  You start to wonder why THAT KID is never sick.   You’ve done just about everything you can think of except deciding to move to France.  The mere mention of that kid’s name makes you tense up.

What are you going to do?

That is what we are going to look at in this blog:  Just what you can do to turn THAT KID around, or at least give you some peace and less stress.

THAT KID could be any kid, at any age, male or female, rich or poor, any race or ethnicity, any religion or creed, any level of intelligence.  However, it is more likely that certain kids get a reputation for being difficult.  We will look at that in the next post.

Let’s look at one of the reasons why THAT KID seems to push your buttons.

Have you ever considered buying a certain car (or other item)?  You’ve given it some careful thought and you think you know what you want.  Suddenly, you start seeing that particular kind of car almost everywhere – in the grocery parking lot, waiting for the light to change, going down the street past your house.

You’ve just experienced something called the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon.  Some people call it a frequency illusion.  (You can read a quick article on this phenomenon at or a short definition by the person who named this phenomenon, Arnold M. Zwicky, at )  What has happened is that your brain has been put on alert to notice a particular thing.  Then when you see it, your thinking about that thing is confirmed –“Yep, I knew it!  That car is the best because everyone seems to have one!”

When we translate this into the classroom, what happens is this:  You’ve heard X about THAT KID and your brain is subconsciously alerted to notice the things you’ve heard about THAT KID.  Now, your brain does the same thing with the kids that have a reputation for being angelic.  For example, if you’ve heard that Ellie is helpful and kind to others, when you see her whispering to another student, your brain thinks, “Yes, there it is.  Ellie is helping that other student.”  That’s great, but the opposite is also true.  When you see THAT KID whispering to another student, your brain associates that behavior with the negative things you’ve heard and you think, “Oh, THAT KID!  I wonder what he’s plotting now?”

Every teacher consciously believes that s/he gives every student an equal chance to succeed, however the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon contributes to a self-fulfilling prophesy, something that happens without our conscious effort.  It works like this:  you develop a particular idea about a student; you see the student do something and attribute that behavior to what you’ve heard about the kid; that confirms what you’ve been told.  That confirmation means we look for the behavior all the more, and that means we act a bit differently towards that kid and s/he lives up or down to the expectations our behavior has communicated to him/her.  What’s worse, the whole process is subconscious.

Let’s be very, very clear – we do not do this consciously.  This is unconscious, and not done on purpose!  Few if any teachers consciously think:  I can’t wait to treat THAT KID differently than I do the rest of the class.

This information is all well and good, but what can you do right now, today, to start to relieve your stress?

Try this:  make a list of good things about THAT KID.  This isn’t always easy, especially if THAT KID has been a thorn in your side for a while.  However, by consciously thinking, “I want to notice good things about THAT KID,” you start to break the cycle of the self-fulfilling prophesy.  For example, you might start to eavesdrop when THAT KID whispers to another and find out THAT KID is just asking to borrow a pencil, or you may hear THAT KID is asking if the other student wants to borrow something.

It’s that simple:  start to really look for good things about that kid.  Yes, it may be difficult to do, but there are rewards that are almost immediate.  First, it is much more pleasurable to look for positive things than it is to only notice negative things.  Second, you are less stressed when you think about positives because when you do not notice mostly negative things your body does not react as if you are in a threatening situation.  Third, you begin to chip away at that self-fulfilling prophesy which is the start of a turn-around for THAT KID.

Give it a try!


Next time we will look at how kids get a negative reputation.  You may be surprised at some of the ways.

by Kathryn Roe