On Teachers’ Attitudes Toward Students

One thing I quickly learned as a teacher is that it’s almost impossible to treat all your students objectively. It shouldn’t be any surprise that you feel more empathy toward some, while others are simply easier to remember. I once got a marriage proposal from a student (she was a high school freshman, I was 57; I didn’t take her seriously). Another middle school student liked to hide behind me when they played hide-and-seek during noon recess. And once at the end of the day, he ran off the school bus just to say hi… as the buses were starting to leave (the driver was not happy).

So I’m always interested in research on teacher-student relations. So the headline “Huge study finds professors’ attitudes affect students’ grades” immediately caught my eye. In this case, the studied attitude is quite subtle — Is a student’s intelligence fixed and unchanging, or can it be developed?

According to the article, “The results [as summarized in the illustration] showed a surprising difference between the professors who agreed that intelligence is fixed and those who disagreed (referred to as “fixed mindset” and “growth mindset” professors). In classes taught by fixed mindset instructors, Latino, African-American, and Native American students averaged grades 0.19 grade points (out of four) lower than white and Asian-American students. But in classes taught by “growth mindset” instructors, the gap dropped to just 0.10 grade points.”

Perhaps the professors who think students’ intelligence is fixed don’t try to keep their students as motivated? This attitude doesn’t have to be obvious, but can come across in small ways. And although all students seem to be affected, the impact on minorities seems greater. So maybe all that’s needed to improve education is a mindset change among the teachers to encourage more student growth?

Granted, the statistical difference is not huge, but it’s large enough to be taken seriously.

The complete article, “Huge study finds professors’ attitudes affect students’ grades, And it’s doubly true for minority students” by Scott K. Johnson is at https://arstechnica.com/science/2019/02/huge-study-finds-professors-attitudes-affect-students-grades/? .

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