This study began as an inquisition into the nuances of learning acquisition in a high school classroom and mutated through an engagement with critical texts into something slightly different. It now focuses on a study of how teachers affect the learning acquisition of high school students in any discipline. It takes into account both the rapport that teachers in high school develop with their students and the effects that their criticism or praise has on the student’s achievement in the class. It also takes into account the social background of students and how that affects their relationships with their teachers. Using a study by Natriello and McDill that explains how homework works as an indicator to a student’s achievement level, we are able to measure the effects of a teacher’s standards for that student on his or her achievement. Similarly, Crosnoe, Elder, Jr., and Johnson talk about the social effects of a teacher’s relationship with his or her student, and how that is shown in that student’s level of achievement. By combining these two studies, we can directly trace the impact of a teacher on a student’s academic performance. We can then draw the conclusion that developing some kind of rapport with the student, even if it only exists while he or she is in the classroom, is in the best interest of that student and can greatly affect his or her performance in your class.
McDill and Natriello reference a study made in 1964-65 of students in 20 American high schools regarding their personal histories, the effects of standards on their work (teacher, peer, and parental), and how those standards affected their homework and English GPA, which was then used to assess their achievement levels. For our purposes, we will be focusing mostly on the impact of the teacher’s expectations. Keep in mind that we are using McDill and Natriello’s interpretation of the results, because it shows the direct effect of teacher’s expectations on achievement and discusses it in some detail. The authors sum up the effect that the study shows teachers standards have had on students. Girls, students on the college preparatory track, and students with higher ability are more likely to report in the study that their teachers have set standards for them in their classes (McDill and Natriello, 1986, 26). The study also tells us that teachers’ aspirations have a noticeably positive, though small, effect on student achievement: that is, those students whose teachers have set standards for them do better academically than their counterparts (McDill and Natriello, 1986, 26-28). The authors then go on to draw conclusions and talk about the limits of this study as a tool to measure these expectations. One very good point that they make is that “teachers… can choose to associate only with students who are academically successful” (McDill and Natriello, 1986, 28). This should not be the case, especially not if their standards are able to make students perform better academically.
Another thing that they point out, and one that is particularly relevant in this case, is that the teacher’s background, not just the student’s, determines the teacher’s set of academic expectations. In addition, there are also the constant monitoring and evaluation of teachers to consider when discussing whether they establish performance standards for their students (McDill and Natriello, 1986, 29). Interestingly, the next conclusion that McDill and Natriello come to explain that a teacher’s expectations have a profound effect on student effort, yet a relatively small effect on student achievement (McDill and Natriello, 1986, 29). This may be because of several factors that are important for teachers to understand, but the most important of these is that he or she can not will a student to do will; students must do that on their own.
In their study, Crosnoe, Elder, Jr., and Johnson emphasize the intergenerational bond between students and their teachers, such as how a student perceives his or her teacher (i.e. fair, caring, etc.), and examines how that bond influences the student’s performance in school. They conducted an experiment in which they took student samplings and had those students report on how they interacted with their teachers. They establish for us that students can be trusted to give accurate representations of themselves, with the caveats that they underrepresent their behavioral problems and tend to inflate their grades (Crosnoe, Elder Jr., and Johnson, 2004, 65). From this study, the authors concluded that, while there was no immediate significant academic improvement, later, those students who developed interpersonal relationships with their teachers were positively affected, both academically and otherwise, by these relationships. These measurements also allowed them to come to the conclusion that these interpersonal relations with the teacher were more affective for Hispanic American girls and less so for African American boys (Crosnoe, Elder, Jr., and Johnson, 2004, 68-69). In addition, the students who established interpersonal bonds with their teachers were less likely to cause disciplinary problems later in life (Crosnoe, Elder, Jr., and Johnson, 2004, 69).
They then go on to describe how these intergenerational bonds between student and teacher function within the academic environment. To do this, they first measured the variance of interpersonal relations across different schools, which did not prove widely variable. Then they took samplings from the same schools, and used those samplings to form their conclusions about what institutional instances affected teacher-bonding (Crosnoe, Elder, Jr. and Johnson, 2004, 71). The factors that they concluded held sufficient importance in teacher/student bonding were school safety (the highest predictor of teacher-bonding in schools), mean parental education in the school, private school settings, and a school setting that included more teachers of their own race or ethnicity (Crosnoe, Elder, Jr., and Johnson, 2004, 72). The most prominent of these, according to the authors, were those that were the “more diffuse aspects of schooling environments (e.g. climate)” (Crosnoe, Elder Jr., and Johnson).
Crosnoe, Elder, Jr., and Johnson say in their conclusion that “…schools can be viewed as important aspects of the ecology of human development – institutional settings influencing the more proximate contexts that, in turn, direct development” (Crosnoe, Elder, Jr., and Johnson, 2004, 75). Teachers in these environments must be aware of this fact and do everything in their power to enhance it. We have seen how teacher standards in the classroom regarding homework and overall performance aid students in achieving a higher effort and, sometimes, higher grades. Crosnoe, Elder, Jr., and Johnson tell us in their study that interpersonal relationships between the students and their teachers also foster a more enjoyable learning environment and a higher level of achievement. Students, however, cannot be solely responsible for establishing these interpersonal relationships. Sometimes a student may be too shy to approach a teacher and ask for help. In this case, it is the teacher’s responsibility to recognize that student’s struggle and assist him or her. This is a part of what Kounin refers to as “withitness”, being able to observe what is going on in the classroom around you and being able to adjust accordingly. Teachers need to be conscious of such issues and need to know how to handle them.
By observing the two studies examined in this study, we can come to some conclusions about teachers’ effects on their students’ performance. Sometimes, however, students simply do not want to learn, and we must be careful to keep that in mind as we teach. Recognizing these students is the first step. Then, we must do everything in our power to inspire in them a love of learning, or at least, an acceptance of it. However, we also must be careful not to give them too much attention, because all that will do, in some cases, is foster more errant behavior. So, as teachers, we walk a fine line. Our influence, our expectations and our goals, and our relationships with our students, hold a lot of power. We must be careful not to abuse that power. We have been trusted with it; now, we must earn that trust.
Crosnoe, Robert, Glen H. Elder, Jr., and Monica Kirkpatrick Johnson. 2004.
Intergenerational Bonding in School: The Behavioral and Contextual Correlates of Student-Teacher Relationships. Sociology of Education, 77.1, 60-81. Retrieved February 20, 2008 from http://www.jstor.org.
Natriello, Gary and Edward L. McDill. 1986. Performance Standards, Student Effort on
Homework, and Academic Achievement. Sociology of Education, 59.1, 18-31. Retrieved April 13, 2008 from http://www.jstor.org.