A research study, conducted at a school where the children were from poor socio-economic backgrounds, compared the success of children of similar backgrounds. The children had been randomly placed in three first-grade classrooms. Their teachers had taught in this school for many years.
The researchers found that although family status and conditions were related to academic success, the effect of teacher influence was quite strong. Using reading achievement as the primary measure of educational achievement, they found that 64 percent of the children in the class of one teacher (Miss A) were high achievers, compared to 28 percent of the other first-grade classes. Conversely, Miss A had 7 percent low achievers, while the other teachers had 28 percent low achievers. Furthermore, the average academic achievement of children from Miss A’s class remained consistently higher throughout their elementary school years.
How did Miss A enable so many of her pupils to do well academically? A reporter who did an in-depth story on Miss A and her pupils found that her attitude was, “It did not matter what background or abilities the beginning pupil had; there was no way the pupil was not going to read at the end of first grade.” Miss A imbued her pupils with self-confidence and an appreciation of the importance of schooling. Hard work was one of the keys to her success with students: for children who were slow learners, Miss A devoted extra hours.1
This study, however, reveals more than just the effect of successful teaching, but also an implicit school policy of indifference. Although the school administrators had a standard in Miss A’s teaching by which they could judge teaching success, they did not intervene or take corrective measures to change less effective instruction and less favorable academic outcomes in the other classrooms. Because schools simply accept that a proportion of their pupils would fail, Miss A’s colleagues appeared to have been doing an acceptable and normal job. Miss A’s success remained hers alone. Had she been much less successful, less would have been just as acceptable.2
- Pederson, E., Faucher, T. A., & Eaton, W. W., “A new perspective on the effects of first-grade teachers on children’s subsequent adult status,” Harvard Business Review, 1978, vol. 48, 1-31, cited in Coles, The Learning Mystique, 156-157.
- Coles, The Learning Mystique, 157.