Victims of Circumstance
Stereotype threat refers to an individual being at risk of confirming a negative stereotype about their group (Steele & Aronson, 1995). We have encountered many stereotype threats in our day. Threats like, boys are stronger in math than girls are, whites are stronger in math than blacks are, blacks are better athletes than whites are; all are examples of stereotypes that threaten the success of the individuals that identify with these particular groups. I couldn't help but stop and think about this in the context of our current conversation.
According to our district's state report card, approximately 66% of the district is identified as a minority, 49% are Hispanic students, 17% Black. Of equal importance, 98% of the district is economically disadvantaged (2015-2016 Ohio Department of Education Report Card, retrieved November 24, 2016). Stereotype threats are looming throughout the local community. We hear some of them from parents during conferences and sadly even within the halls of the schools. In a district where language is a constant barrier and education lacking, at best, our students unconsciously inherit the limitations that have stunted the success of their parents. This is important to know because it speaks not only to the level of confidence our students come to us with but also to the level of efficacy, we as teachers have to address these threats.
It's a fact that our students are faced with challenges. Our perception of what it must be like to live in poverty is our students’ sad reality. But, are their circumstances truly indicative of their ability to be successful students? What is our role in ensuring that our students do not fall victim to their unwelcomed circumstances?
As educators, it is my opinion that we first look at poverty differently. It is not a disability, it's an obstacle. It's a mindset that exists because the people in and around our student's lives have yet to figure out how to change their circumstances or are unaware of the resources available to assist in changing them. Once we ourselves believe that our students’ circumstances are systemic rather than defining in nature, we need to be purposeful and intentional about working to change their mindset. Their mindset has been fixed on stereotype threats for much of their schooling already. I imagine it is difficult for them to think of anything different. Many of our students that are struggling readers come to us already years behind their peers. Place on top of that, being a non-English speaker. Some of our parents didn't finish high school or get past the 8th grade for that matter. Think about the conversation happening in these homes. The fears and failures of the parents are now threats that hinder our students’ growth and progress. But, it doesn't have to.
It is imperative that we raise our expectations. I understand that as educators, we don't want to see our students fail. Their failures do become our own. However, we have to refrain from lowering expectations to meet our own needs. This is not about us. Our job is to provide all students with a quality education. That means we need to empower them. We need to continue raising our expectations and providing instruction that will challenge students thinking. We have to realize that when we show our students how much we believe in them, they will begin to not only believe in themselves, but they will perform. So, raise the bar! As we begin to break down the threat barriers that are hindering our students, they will begin to reach for the bar where it has been set for them.
Continuing to limit the growth of our students by succumbing to the belief that they cannot perform at the same rate or level as their peers is so damaging. And think about it, if we cannot ourselves break away from the stereotype threats, then who are the real victims of circumstance? We should know and do better.
American Psychological Association (2006). Stereotype threat widens achievement gap. Washington, D.C.: author
Ohio Department of Education (2016). Annual District Report Card, 2015-2016.
Reducing Stereotype Threats. Stereotype Threats. Retrieved from ReducingStereotypeThreats.org on November 24, 2016.
Steele, C. M., & Aronson, J. (1995). Stereotype threat and the intellectual test performance of African-Americans. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69, 797-811.
Tyler, K. & Tyler, C. (2009). Stereotype Threat. Classroom Learning. Retrieved from Education.com, November 24, 2016.
To read more from Dr. Kelly Bullock Daugherty click here
Dr. Kelly Bullock Daugherty is a passionate professional in the field of education with 17-years of experience in the urban school setting. Her experience ranges from classroom teaching (grades 3-8) where Dr. Daugherty is a respected teacher leader and mentor in her district, to providing professional development and consulting with organizations in the areas of teacher leadership and efficacy as they relate to student growth and achievement. Dr. Daugherty was a key influencer in ensuring teachers implemented differentiated instructional strategies into daily classroom practices. Her leadership led to increased scores on standardized tests and an increase in state designation level. Additionally, as a member of the Delta Teacher Efficacy Campaign's (DTEC) National leadership team, Dr. Daughertyactively participated in the development and implementation of specialized program curricula directed towards the growth and development of urban school educators, in particular.
Dr. Daugherty is the Founder and CEO of Transitions Educational Consulting, LLC. She has been invited to speak with members of the state's House of Representatives on the topic of Common Core and its potential impact on the success of urban school students. From this, she was tagged an “agitator for change”. In addition to offering professional development on current issues in education, specifically in the areas teacher efficacy, stereotype threat, and culturally responsive teaching, she is a motivational speaker inspiring educators, administrators, parents, students, and other professionals a like to not only define it, but to strive for personal and professional “GREATNESS”.