Positive Stereotypes Drive Pre-service Teachers’ Evaluations of Overweight Pupils
Overweight children in schools can become victims of stereotyping from teachers. A study in Social Psychology of Education investigates whether pre-service teachers (student teachers who are enrolled in a teacher preparation program and working toward teacher certification) rely on negative stereotypes when evaluating the performance of pupils. Interestingly, pre-service teachers evaluate the academic performance of overweight pupils more positive than the performance of normal-weight pupils.
- Contrary to what is often assumed, pre-service teachers do not rely on negative stereotypes when evaluating the academic performance of overweight pupils.
- They even evaluate overweight pupils more positively than normal-weight pupils. This only applies to academic skills, not to social skills.
- Training programs designed to overcome stereotypes, whether they are negative or positive, are necessary to increase awareness for biased evaluations in the classroom among pre-service teachers and help to ensure fair treatment for all pupils.
To what extent do pre-service teachers (student teachers who are enrolled in a teacher preparation program and working toward teacher certification) rely on negative stereotypes when evaluating their pupil’s performance?
57 pre-service teachers (mean age 21 years; age range 17-35 years; 95% female)
The participating pre-service teachers read two stories describing two male pupils. One of the pupils was described as being overweight, while the other was described as being normal-weight. Half of the teachers received information that confirmed a stereotype, namely that the overweight pupil was performing below average, while the normal-weight pupil was performing above average. The other half of the pre-service teachers received information that disconfirmed a stereotype, namely that the overweight pupil was performing above average, while the normal-weight pupil was performing below average.
After reading the stories, pre-service teachers indicated to what extent three different academic characteristics (math competence, Dutch language proficiency, and intelligence) and two different social characteristics (social skills and assertiveness) were present in the pupil. The researchers measured how fast the teachers answered each question. They assumed that the faster the teachers made their evaluations, the more they relied on automatic stereotypes about overweight pupils.
Facts and findings
- Overall, the teachers evaluated the overweight pupil as more proficient in the Dutch language and more intelligent than the normal-weight pupil, regardless of the information they received about their general performance (below- or above-average).
- The teacher's evaluation of the pupil’s competence in math did depend on the information they received about the pupil’s general performance:
- When comparing pupils that were said to perform above-average, the teachers evaluated the overweight pupil as more competent in maths than the normal-weight pupil.
- However, when comparing pupils that were said to perform below-average, the teachers evaluated the overweight and normal-weight pupils equally competent in maths.
- Teachers were faster in answering the academic characteristics questions (math, Dutch language proficiency, and intelligence) for the overweight pupil than for the normal-weight pupil. This suggests that their positive evaluations of the overweight pupil were easily accessible, which may be a result of their positive stereotypical beliefs about overweight children.
- The teachers evaluated overweight and normal-weight children equally competent on social skills.
- Critical note: In this study, teacher’s evaluations of hypothetical situations (stories about pupils) were measured instead of real life observations and judgements of the pupils in their own classroom. Also, the stories were only about male pupils while nearly all participating pre-service teachers were female. Thus, it is unclear whether these results also apply for female pupils and male pre-service teachers.