The Traits of "Good Teachers" as
African American and White Students
With Emotional and/or Behavioral Disorders
Over 300 students in eleven programs for the Emotionally and/or Behaviorally Disordered (EBD) in New York City public schools were surveyed regarding their perceptions of the importance of a number of traits of "good" teachers. Four teacher trait clusters were examined: Personality Traits, Treatment of Students, Behavior Management Practices, and Instructional Skills. This research found that (1) African American students perceived "Personality Traits" and "Respectful Treatment of Students" as being more important than did their White counterparts; (2) females felt that all four of the trait configurations were more important than did males; and (3) as students got older, all traits configurations were viewed as being less important. Implications of these results and suggestions for practice and future research are offered. (There were not enough Asian and Hispanic students to include in the analysis.)
Chamberlain and Carnot (1974) state that "Good teachers are the first line of defense against delinquency" (p. 8). The strength of this protection is of particular concern for EBD youth, of whom 20% are arrested at least once while in school, and 35% are arrested within three years of their exit (Chesapeake Institute, 1994). Like their general education peers (Bergreen, 1988), students with EBD report that they attend class more often, behave better, and work more diligently for teachers they like, admire, and respect (McIntyre, 1995). However, what particular teacher traits are preferred? Can we assume that all teachers need the same skills and traits to be successful in their chosen profession? Would findings from the general education literature translate directly to special education and specifically the field of emotional and behavioral disorders?
To some extent, the answer is yes (Rizzo & Zabel, 1988). However, it seems that additional specialized skills are required to be successful with youngsters who have special needs. Morsink, Fardig, Algozzine, and Algozzine (1987) categorized teacher competencies into three groups: (a) generic - those needed by both general and special education teachers; (b) core - those needed by teachers of disabled pupils regardless of disability; and (c) specialized - those skills specific to effective teaching in a particular area of disability. Kauffman and Wong (1991) profess similar views, stating "Generic teaching skills appear to be sufficient for dealing with typical behavior problems. Nevertheless, different attitudes and additional skills may be required for effective teaching of students with behavioral disorders" (p. 225).
Although many of the personal traits needed by effective teachers of EBD students appear prior to professional training (Rizzo & Zabel, 1988), certainly other important traits and skills must be developed during preservice or inservice training. Unfortunately, there is a scarcity of information regarding which skills and aptitudes are needed by teachers of EBD youngsters (Gable, Hendrickson, Young, and Shokoohi-Yekta, 1992; Kauffman & Wong, 1991; Rizzo & Zabel, 1988), or desired by the students they serve (McIntyre, 1995), some characteristics have been investigated. For example, many investigators have concluded that special educators working with EBD pupils are more tolerant and less demanding than general educators (Algozzine, 1980; Kerr & Zigmond, 1986; Safran & Safran, 1987; Walker, 1986; Walker & Lamon, 1987; Walker & Rankin, 1983).
A number of other researchers have investigated personality traits and professional characteristics by questioning professionals familiar with EBD students. Cullinan, Epstein and Schultz (1987), in a survey of professors and program administrators, found that they ranked behavior management and personal/professional traits as the most important for EBD teachers to possess. Among the traits listed in these two categories were the characteristics of fairness, sensitivity, empathy, persistence, humor, enthusiasm, and ability to remain calm in crises. Other desirable teacher traits identified in the literature include self-efficacy (Ashton & Webb, 1986; Brophy, et. al., 1986), counseling skills (Mackie, Kvaraceus & Williams, 1957), establishment of clear-cut classroom expectations (Polsgrove & Rieth, 1979), warmth (Mackie, et. al., 1957; Polsgrove & Rieth, 1979), and emotional maturity (Berkowitz & Rothman, 1960; Mackie, et. al., 1957).
Kauffman and Wong (1991) in a review of the literature, concluded that while little is known about what actually discriminates teachers of students with EBD from instructors in other areas, "...effective teaching of behavior disordered students may require skills, attitudes and beliefs different from those teachers who work effectively with more ordinary students...If the specific characteristics that make teachers more effective with behavior disordered students could be identified, an empirical basis for teacher selection and training could be built" (p. 226). In that vein, after having delineated skills necessary for all beginning special education teachers, the Council for Exceptional Children (1992) engaged in the identification of skills necessary to teach in particular areas of exceptionality. Their work has not yet been published.
While the surveying and observation of teachers is a valuable source of information, perhaps education should emulate the practices of other public agencies. When they want to improve service delivery, they query their consumers. In all the research on teachers, whether involving general or special education, relatively few researchers have asked the students for their contributions. Over two decades ago, Darling (1974) did report on his informal conversations with delinquent youth, noting that they had certain preferences for teacher instructional and interactional style. He wrote that in order for programs for these youth to work, each student must have at least one reliable and important adult to which to attach him/herself.
Indeed, research shows that it is important for students and teachers to like one another (Bergreen, 1988). Good teachers know how to build successful relationships with their students (Furman, 1990). However, more specific information on building and maintaining relationships with EBD youngsters is needed if Foster's (1986) assertion is correct: that most professionals have little idea about how to relate with and gain the respect of these students.
Darling (1974) reported that these youth valued patient and accepting teachers who provided opportunities for success, demanded their best effort, and held to clearly defined classroom limits. McIntyre (1991; 1996a), based on his experiences with and study of urban socially maladjusted youth, reported that they valued humorous, confident, "streetsmart" instructors who presented action-oriented lessons.
SURVEY AND SAMPLE
Permission to conduct the study was gained from the New York City school system. Seventeen self contained sites for EBD youth were asked to participate in the study. Letters were sent to the programs explaining the proposed study and requesting their participation. Eleven sites (65%) agreed to participate.
Students in the sample were asked to complete a two page survey instrument. The cover sheet requested, among other things, background demographic information. The second page listed 31 desirable teacher traits identified in the literature and a series of seven focus groups consisting of students labeled EBD. None of these 34 pupils were included in this study. Respondents in the study rated the importance of each listed trait for effectively teaching students with EBD by circling one number on a four-point Likert scale.
For the 31 characteristic statements, the survey page contained the following directions: "People who are going to college to be teachers would like to know how to be a good one. Tell them how important each thing is by drawing a circle around one of the numbers in front of it." Next to each statement were the numbers one (1) through four (4), such that: one meant "it is not important", two meant "it helps to make a good teacher", three meant "it is important to do", and four meant "they must do it to be a good teacher".
Due to student differences in age, reading ability, attention span, etc., teachers were directed to administer the survey to their pupils in any manner deemed most likely to yield true perceptions (e.g., oral reading of items, translation of questions, group or individual administration, repeated partial administrations, etc.). Upon completion, teachers delivered the instruments to a designated person at each site who then returned the completed forms to the principal investigator. Ultimately, 307 public school students labeled EBD completed surveys; however only those 293 students who answered at least 12 (40%) of the 31 Likert scale questions were considered for analysis.
The reason for using this cut-off criterion relates to the study's
focus on measuring students' perceptions. Only students who offered
a significant amount of information about their perceptions were included.
Nonetheless, ANOVAs were performed on the deleted cases. They were
found to be not statistically different from selected cases on any of the
dependent variables. Therefore, for theoretical purposes, we felt
comfortable not including cases containing less than 12 completed items.
Finally of the 293 valid cases, we looked exclusively at those respondents who self-identified as being White or African American. As a result, the final number of valid cases available for analysis was 209. No teacher characteristics were available to serve as demographic control variables.
As stated previously, each student was given a list of 31 traits gleaned from the literature and asked to indicate the degree to which each trait was important in order for an instructor to be "a good teacher". Of these statements the ones employed to measure the dependent variables considered here were selected based upon their theoretical implications. From the 31 questions, four `perceptions were measured: Personality traits, Respectful treatment of students, Behavior management practices, and Instructional skill. The dependent variable ‘personality traits was measured with such statements as the teacher "Likes kids", "Is a nice person", "Is friendly", etc. To measure ‘respectful treatment of students, statements such as "Cares about you," "Listens to you," and "Respects your opinion" were employed. "Is consistent so you know what to expect and how they will act" and "Lets you know what they expect you to do" are examples of the statements utilized to measure ‘behavior management practices. Finally, in order to measure ‘instructional skill, we used statements like "Acts like they know what they are doing", "Gives interesting lesson", and "Makes you try hard and demands your best effort".
Complete operational definitions and alpha reliability coefficients are summarized in Tables 1 and 2; and Table 4 presents the means, standard deviations, and other descriptive data for these composites.
See Tables 1 and 2 below
There were three independent variables in this analysis: (1) race/culture -- African American vs. White students, (2) gender - - female vs. male students, and (3) age -- a variable ranging from 5 to 20 years. Race/culture and gender were coded into "dummy variables." These variables were coded such that Whites and males were the reference groups. Age was left as a continuous variable. The names, operational definitions, and frequency distributions of these independent variables are further summarized in Table 3. Table 4 presents means, standard deviations, and other descriptive data.
See Tables 3 and 4 below
The first step in the analysis was to construct the composite variables. The variables which make up these composites were selected based upon theoretical constraints and are explained above. To measure the reliability of the composites, Cronbach's (1951) alpha was employed. This reliability estimate is considered an excellent measure of internal consistency as well as being the most popular procedure of this type (Carmines & Zeller, 1979). It is a measure used to evaluate unidimensional scales. The calculated alpha is the mean R2 between the observed data and hypothetical underlying dimension. Alpha can also be interpreted as the mean split-half correlations. Thus the formula:
Race and gender were then converted to dummy variables; whereby each one had two categories coded as zero (0) and one (1). In order to investigate the effects of each independent variable on each of the continuous dependent variables, and given the fact that two dummy variables and one continuous variable were acting as independent variables, multiple regression analysis was employed. The regression coefficients may be regarded as measures of the extent to which each predictor variable independently affects the dependent variable. Additionally, the reader should be mindful that in dummy variable multiple regression, group means can also be interpreted.
Due to listwise deletion of cases, ultimately the sample contained some 188 African American and White, male and female students, who ranged in age from 5 to 20 years of age. Of those 188 students, 82% were African American, 14% were females, and the average age of the students was 12 years old.
Table 5 contains the unstandardized regression coefficients and standard errors for all four regressions.
See Table 5 below
With Personality Traits as the dependent variable, African American students scored 1.786 statistically significant points higher than their White counterparts. Girls scored 1.427 statistically significant points higher than boys. The older the student, the less important personality traits were in constituting "a good teacher".
Scores for the Respectful treatment of students variable were statistically significantly higher for African American students (1.90) and for female students (3.316). Just as with the Personality traits composite, as students get older, respectful treatment towards them was reported to be less important.
There were no significant differences between African American and White students on either the Behavior management practices composite or the Instructional skill composite. On both of these composites, however, females scores were statistically significantly higher than their male counterparts (1.010 and 2.450 respectively); and again, as students get older they were significantly less likely to be concerned with these perception dependent variables.
This research investigation directly questioned students with EBD about which characteristics they prefer in their teachers. Though some of these data have been previously analyzed (McIntyre, 1995), those results were largely preliminary, solely providing bivariate differences by age, gender, and race/culture. The analyzes presented herein were different and more sophisticated.
Using the earlier report as a basis, the data analysis procedures described in this report evaluated individual items to create "good teacher" trait composites (via factor analysis of the preliminary four categories identified in the earlier published document). The results presented above reflect a more in-depth data analysis of the earlier research on this data (McIntyre, 1995) in which youngsters with EBD were found to be tolerant of a wide range of teacher personalities (although an instructionally skilled teacher who treated students respectfully appeared to be the desired prototype). Our analysis then employed multivariate statistics to analyze the simultaneous effects of race/culture, gender, and age on these newly created composites. Differences in each teacher trait composite were apparent.
Differences between African American and White students were only
present on two of the dependent variables analyzed-- Personality traits
and Respectful treatment of students. For these two traits, African
American students found them to be significantly more important than their
White counterparts. Concerning the differences found on the Personality
composite of teacher traits, African American students viewed humorous,
entertaining, relaxed, and caring teachers as being more desirable than
did their White peers. Perhaps this finding is a reflection of racial
differences in orientation, as African Americans, in general, tend to be
more people oriented (Franklin, 1992; Grossman, 1995; Romero, 1992), while
Whites tend to be more task oriented (Colin & Johns, 1990; Ho, 1992;
Romero, 1992; Storti, 1994). If this is the case, White youngsters
would generally be less interested in teacher personality characteristics.
Females scored higher than their male counterparts on all four measures. This suggests that across the board, teacher characteristics and personal traits are viewed with more importance by girls than boys. This finding could be a function of commonly found differences in the ways that the genders communicate and interact with others. The majority of the 31 statements presented to the students in this study reflect a characteristically feminine orientation (Gray, 1992; Tannen, 1990) that emphasizes intimacy, acceptance, interpersonal connection, empathy, cooperation, and a sense of community. These commonly-found differences in behavior and communication styles can have implications for identification and programming for youngsters with EBD (McIntyre, 1996b).
All four teacher trait composites considered herein become less important to students with EBD as they age. This result could be interpreted in a number of different ways. Perhaps this indicates that older pupils have become more self-sufficient in learning, and therefore become less concerned about these attributes in their teachers. On the other hand, it could reflect an increasing rejection of school among youngsters with EBD as they grow older, and a corresponding lack of concern about teachers or their characteristics.
Successful teachers of students with EBD appear to possess special personal and professional attributes (Rizzo & Zabel, 1988). However, little information exists regarding these characteristics. This limited knowledge base needs expansion. The characteristics of good teachers as identified by researchers and educators are important for guiding teacher training efforts (Kauffman & Wong, 1991). The same holds true for the traits of "good teachers" as identified by EBD students.
The present study attempted to determine which personal and professional traits of teachers are viewed by students with EBD as being reflective of a "good teacher". It provides some insight into EBD students perceptions of characteristics of successful teachers, and should serve as the beginning of an ongoing research agenda in which students with varying demographic characteristics are questioned to assess the teacher traits, ecological factors, and instructional and behavior management practices they believe to be most appropriate and palatable for themselves.
This study was original and novel in that students were canvassed
directly. However, methodological shortcomings are apparent.
Teachers asked for student volunteers for the surveys and administered
them in any manner that they believed would best obtain truthful responses.
This variation in administration procedures, while required to allow for
differences in age, reading level, time constraints, etc., probably increased
response rates, but may have effected validity in comparisons and might
have introduced myriad uncontrolled factors.
Only desirable traits were listed on the Likert scale portion of the instrument. Therefore, chances were that no traits would be rated by students as undesirable; thus decreasing the amount of variance. Nonetheless, this arrangement did challenge students to think about these characteristics and quantify their preferences. Further research might employ methodologies which would allow the students to consider characteristics that are positive, negative, neutral, or questionable in nature.
Additionally, the perceptions of students with varying sub- types of EBD might also be assessed. For example, Kauffman and Wong (1991) state that "Given the wide range of problems falling under the broad category of behavioral disorders, one might hypothesize that markedly different teacher characteristics are optimal for students having different types of behavioral disorders" (p. 234). Ultimately, researchers should work to compare the views of EBD students with pupils experiencing other disabilities, as well as students in the general population in order to assess differences and similarities.
Mackie, et al. (1957, p. 26) stated that "Above all, the teachers should provide a flexible school program to permit individual student adjustment and development and provide experiences in which they can be successful." They continued, stating that "The teacher, all agree, should be a well-adjusted, warm, and accepting person...objective and supporting. He must have achieved a high degree of maturity himself. In addition, he must be able to `take it'" (p. 33). These words, written almost four decades ago, still ring true today.
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Phi Delta Kappa Fastback #197.
Thomas McIntyre, Ph.D., is a professor of Special Education at Hunter College of the City University of New York.
Juan Battle, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology
at Hunter College & The Graduate Center of the City University of New
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