Students’ perceptions of caring teachers

Teachers show they care for students by their actions. Educators theorize that active caring fosters the emotional and intellectual growth of students. In classrooms where students believe teachers care, they behave better and are more receptive to learning. But which behaviors do students believe demonstrate that their teachers care about them?

In a recent study of 208 sixth-grade students in ethnically diverse New York City area schools, Charles B. Hayes, New York University, Alice Ryan, Fordham University, and Elaine B. Zseller, Saint Stephen Lutheran School, New York, sought to identify teacher behaviors that students perceive as caring.

Each student in the study completed a demographic questionnaire providing information about his/her ethnicity, gender, family structure and parents’ occupations. Each child was also asked to describe, in writing, two memorable teachers who showed that they cared about students. To avoid conditioned responses, the concept of caring was not explained or discussed prior to the survey. Each essay was read by two of three researchers, and teacher behaviors were recorded and coded by category.

Results indicate that students most frequently described caring as “responding to the individual” by providing attention outside the classroom, by being accessible, by being interested in a student’s whole life or by helping with personal situations. The next most frequent description was “helped with academic work.” This focused on personal assistance outside of normal group situations. Next, students cited “encouraged success and positive feelings.” Here, the teacher fostered confidence and encouraged the child to believe in him- or herself, providing praise or showing respect for the student. “Provided fun and humor” was the next most frequently cited description of caring. This most often was reflected in a lighthearted classroom atmosphere.

More than half the students described caring teachers as those who “provided good subject content,” made the subject fun and interesting and prepared students well for the next grade. Significant numbers of students also described caring teachers as those who “listened,” “counseled the student,” were “interested in and fair to all students,” and “managed the class well.”

Hayes et al. conclude that teachers can improve the learning environments of their classrooms by demonstrating caring behaviors that are meaningful to students.

“The Middle School Child’s Perceptions of Caring Teachers”, American Journal of Education, Volume 103, Number 1, November 1994, pp.1-20.

Published in ERN January/February 1995, Volume 8, Number 1

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