The Impact of Sex, Gender, and Cognitive Complexity on the Perceived Importance of Teacher Communication Skills

Article excerpt

Researchers have increasingly examined teacher behaviors with the assumption that the teacher-student relationship is interpersonal in nature and shares similarities with other interpersonal relationships. For example, Frymier and Houser (2000) argued that, despite differences in status and the time constraints associated with teacher-student relationships, these relationships are similar in development and maintenance to other interpersonal relationships. They noted, specifically, that teacher-student relationships begin with uncertainty reduction via information exchange, embody behavioral expectations for the teacher and the student, must be developed and maintained, utilize interpersonal communication to achieve goals, and contain both content and relational dimensions.

The work of Frymier and Houser (2000) is particularly valuable because it underscores the transactional nature of teacher and student interaction. As Nussbaum (1992) noted, too often research has viewed this relationship as one in which teachers affect students. That is, teachers are often viewed as the sources and students the receivers in instructional communication research, generating much research on how teacher behaviors (e.g., verbal and nonverbal immediacy, compliance gaining, self-disclosure, antisocial behaviors, humor orientation, affinity-seeking, perceived caring, etc.) affect students. On the other hand, recent research has also focused on student behaviors and how these impact teacher behaviors in the classroom, including student's use of information-seeking behaviors (Myers & Knox, 2001), immediacy behaviors (Baringer & McCroskey, 2000), affinity-seeking behaviors (Wanzer, 1998), and challenge behaviors (Simonds, 1997).

A third approach recognizes the value of both students and teachers by examining student characteristics and how these influence student perceptions of teacher behaviors. For example, Frymier and Weser (2001) examined the impact of student predispositions (communication apprehension, learning and grade orientation, and humor orientation) on student expectations for instructor communication behavior. Research by Myers, Mottet, and Martin (2000) underscored the importance of focusing on student motives for communicating with their teachers, and how these motives affect perceptions of teacher communication style. It is important to examine personality and social cognitive characteristics that students bring to the classroom and how these influence student perceptions of what should happen in the classroom. Research has established that in a variety of communication situations individuals' perceptions of what should happen in a situation affect motivation, evaluation, and behaviors (Burgoon & LePoire, 1993; Dobos, 1996). Dainton and Stafford (2000) argued that, in any interpersonal relationship, an individual's perceptions of how the other person will behave are often more important in predicting behavioral responses than the person's actual behavior. Indeed, Duck (1986) wrote that an individual's "mental creations" of a relationship may be more important than actual behaviors.

By focusing on student perceptions of communication skills associated with effective teaching, the current study seeks to extend our knowledge of the interpersonal nature of teacher-student relationships by clarifying similarities between teacher-student relationships and other interpersonal relationships (Frymier and Houser, 2000), to provide explanations for any observed similarities based on specific student characteristics, and to allow teachers to reexamine teaching styles and interactions with students to maximize student learning, motivation, and retention. Specifically, the current study replicates and extends the work of Frymier and Houser by examining student perceptions of communication skills used by effective teachers, and by investigating the role of biological sex, psychological gender, and cognitive complexity of students as predictors of student perceptions. …