In 1948, Robert Merton developed the term “self-fulfilling prophecy” to describe “a false definition of the situation evoking a new behavior which makes the originally false conception come true.” In simple terms, a self-fulfilling prophecy is a prediction that direct (or indirectly) causes itself to become true based upon positive or negative feedback.
Recently, I have started to wonder if the theory of the self-fulfilling prophecy can be true – especially when it comes to education. I’ve often wondered about how our interactions and our beliefs about our students might affect their future and how they view themselves. When you think of it this way, it is clear that our job as educators is very powerful. The way in which we interact with our students can have an immediate and direct impact on their future. It’s quite an intimidating thought.
Over the last 12 years, I have worked with all types of educators. I have worked with teachers in private, charter and public schools. I have worked with teachers in elementary, middle, and high school. I have worked with teachers in collaboration, regular, and Honors classes. While I still have so much to learn and experiences to gain, I have had a lot of opportunities to observe teachers and see how they feel about teaching and, more importantly, their students.
In the same way, I have worked with teachers that are excited to come to work every day and teachers that come for the paycheck. I have worked with teachers that are eager to learn and excited to try new things and teachers who are frustrated and just want to make it through the day. I have worked with teachers that shine when they talk about their students and teachers that can’t find one good thing to say about a student. I could go on and on but I think you get my point. When I think about the variety of teachers that exist, I think about how their words will impact future generations. Will their words lift them up? Or tear them down?
Now, let’s think about the idea of the self-fulfilling prophecy. As teachers, if we are empowering students by telling them they can be successful and encouraging them to look to the future – can we help them succeed? On the other hand, if we are tearing students down by responding negatively, telling them that they are not smart, or that they are a problem – are we setting them up to become what we think? If teachers refer to students as “troublemakers”, will they continue to cause trouble? If teachers state that the student won’t finish an assignment or pass a test, will they even try?
As educators, we work with a variety of students from all walks of life. It is our job to empower and encourage them. To be patient and forgiving. To tell them that we see a bright future for them. To offer second chances. To tell them that we believe in them. It is our job as educators, to help our students become more than their wildest dreams. It is our job to help them avoid the self-fulfilling prophecies that people place upon them.
Finally, I will leave you this last thought…As educators, are we also helping other educators avoid their self-fulfilling prophecies? Are we uplifting the struggling educators and encouraging them to be more? Are we sharing the excitement of the new teachers who love teaching? Are we offering words of encouragement? Or…are we telling them that they can’t do it? Or talking negatively about the students? Or telling the new teachers that they will lose their passion after a few years?
Is it possible that self-fulfilling prophecies can affect our students…but also our teachers? If it can, then our job as educators is powerful and should never be taken lightly.