Educators as Mentors: Motivation and Expectations

Educators as Mentors: Motivation and Expectations

Education April 24, 2014 / By Sean Talamas
Educators as Mentors: Motivation and Expectations

Whether they like it or not, educators are often seen as mentors. Similar to parenting, this important role comes with little training or preparation, but serious consequences if negligent. How important are educators’ expectations and their ability to motivate?

The importance of expectations, praise, and mentorship is undervalued in the classroom. It is almost as if some educators see these components of education as extracurricular. I have heard to often from educators (teachers and coaches alike) that “they don’t have to like me, just respect me”; unfortunately, it is very difficult to be respected and not liked. Further, it is this same attitude that leads to a lack of concern for expectations and for careful wording when providing praise and feedback to students.

Expectations are powerful in any learning environment. The classic Pygmalion study emphasized the influence of educator expectations by administrating a test to underprivileged children that was explained as being a strong predictor of significant intellectual growth. The names of the students who earned the highest scores on this test were to be given to the teachers. In fact, the names distributed to the teachers were chosen at random by researchers. After students were retested eight months later, results indicated that those students whose teachers believed initially to have received higher scores actually ended up scoring significantly higher than other students.

Keeping expectancy effects in mind, good educators are aware of the capabilities and potential of their students and make it a personal goal to push them to reach/surpass it. That being said, educators should be aware that what the student thinks or says is their “best” is probably far from what is actually their “best”. The students “best” is rarely good enough; the educators “best” is the target. 

It could be argued that educators are not responsible for being mentors or motivators, yet they are put in that position regardless of their intentions. Normally, this weight would land on the shoulders of parents rather than educators. We all know the strong influence of parenting on academic success and it is usually linked to the expectations and motivation discussed. Nonetheless, educators, at the very least, should be aware of the consequences of negative expectations and its influences on student’s performance.

Unfortunately, educators don’t always have the luxury of students with adequate parenting. Educators are often in the best position to provide the mentorship necessary for students to succeed academically when parent support is limited or even worse, debilitating.

While I believe that particular teaching models and certain educational policies would improve education as a whole, it is proper mentorship (positive expectations and motivation) that is most influential on student learning. I am a strong believer that “grit” is more important than IQ in regards to academic success, yet it is very clear to me that developing a “gritty” personality is not possible without appropriate mentorship.

My current research explores unconscious and unintentional teaching practices and its impact on education. In doing so, I investigate individual differences like the grit and mindset of educators and its influence on perceived intelligence of students. My interests in this area stems from a belief that we must uncover potential limitations to proper mentorship so that educators can impartially educate regardless of first impressions.

I can relate first hand to the importance of mentorship in a students life. I struggled through my early public education years of schooling primarily because of a lack of expectations and motivation from my biological parents. Thankfully, I had strong mentors that stepped in at the most critical period of my adolescence. Till this day I doubt that my academic achievement has anything to do with my intelligence level, but rather the combination of the motivation, expectations and grit my mentors instilled in me. I am not here to say that an educator can step into a similar situation with the same kind of impact, but they should at least understand its effect, recognize the potential consequences, and do their best to expect and motivate accordingly.  

Read more about my thoughts on educator bias at: Antidote to Bias Teaching: Teacher Awareness.

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