Potential

Many moons ago my Dad bumped in to my old headteacher. He asked after my brother (a ‘good’ student). My Dad told him how he was getting on, then mentioned that his other son (me) was starting his teacher training.

The head of my former school laughed. “He’ll never be a teacher”, he guffawed.

He was wrong. I am a teacher. What’s more, a headteacher with a national teaching award under my belt. That’s not a boast, but it is a two-finger salute.

I’m tempted to attach the label ‘pompous idiot’ to the man who flounced in to his first assembly at the school in his graduation gown and mortarboard, as many of us sung the Batman theme tune. But I’ll be more generous and call him ‘misguided’ in his estimation of his former student’s potential.

What was the source of his error?

Perhaps he made a generalisation error. I wasn’t the most hard working student and my laid-back attitude to study might have been interpreted as a character trait, rather than a behaviour attached to a certain type of endeavour. Had he observed the efforts I made in pursuit of something I was passionate about (the hours I spent rehearsing for drama productions, for instance), he might have realised his mistake in attributing behaviour to an inherent trait, rather than the situation.

Perhaps my lack of commitment to my studies and apparent weakness as an academic was interpreted as evidence of unsuitability for the profession. Teachers have to work hard and have good subject knowledge after all. If I didn’t demonstrate this in a school environment, why would I in a work-context?

Or perhaps he made an extrapolation error, assuming that my past actions were a reliable prediction of my future self.

Whatever the reason, the assessment of my potential was wrong.

As you can tell, this experience has, in a small way, driven me. It has also shaped me as a teacher. I am wary about talk of ‘potential’. I am irritated by others who write students off. I do not assume that the child I see in front of me is all that they are. I try to remember that their behaviour is situational, not an inherent feature of their personality. I am cautious about predicting a student’s career path or life chances.

Ironically, being told I would not make a good teacher has made me a better teacher.

’Potential’ be damned.

 

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