African American Students' Perceptions of Their Treatment by Caucasian Teachers

Article excerpt

In this study, 160 African American seventh grade students were asked to complete a questionnaire designed to measure variables such as, `racial preference of teacher', and their perception of the types of treatment received from their Caucasian teachers. The majority of the students, contrary to some research, believed their teachers treated them fairly, related to them, and did not use race as an excuse to mistreat them or punish them for bad behavior. However, a slight majority stated they would prefer being taught by young African American teachers over young Caucasians, but students rejected the notion of only being instructed by teachers of a specific race, African American or Caucasian.

Over the past decades, an increasing amount of attention has been given to race relations in the class room between students and teachers. For example, one of the most frequent complaints of high school students, especially African American students, is that some teachers, most noticeably Caucasians, don't relate very well to them. Numerous studies have been conducted to assess the effects of race on students and teachers, and how well they identify with one another in the classroom. Many educators (Felsenthal, 1970; Graybill, 1997) believe that a positive relationship must exist between the student and teacher if significant academic achievement is to be gained. That is, the student must identify favorably with their teachers or they will do very poorly in school, which will lead to failure in society.

Investigators (Biber and Lewis, 1997; Cook, 1978; Felsenthal, 1970) reported that African American students, as well as their parents articulated that race of teacher was not significant, as long as teachers were caring, effective and fair. Furthermore, Caucasian teachers were able to motivate African American elementary school kids as effectively as African American teachers.

Despite this evidence, other researchers (Brophy, 1983; Casteel, 1998; Cecil, 1988; Ford, 1985; Good, 1981; Holliday, 1985; Marcus et al., 1991; Nieto et al., 1994; Rabinow and Cooper, 1981; Rong, 1996; Troyna, 1990) have concluded that African American students were given less attention, ignored more, praised less, and reprimanded more than their counterparts when taught by Caucasian teachers.

In light of the aforementioned literature, it would seem appropriate for school administrators to make every effort to place students with a teacher of their race. Therefore, this investigation attempted to find out how students felt about being taught by someone other than a member of their own race. Simply stated: Do African American students feel they do not receive fair and just treatment from Caucasian teachers who instruct them? Also, would African Americans prefer teachers of their own race because they could relate better to them?

Method

Sample

Participants were 160 seventh grade African American students in a public junior high school located in a suburban area in southeastern Louisiana. The population was comprised of 101 girls and 59 boys. Originally there were 180 participants, but 20 students were disqualified because of missing data. All participants were tested by school counselors and were considered low achievers and had stanine scores of 4 or below on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills. A majority of the students received free lunch or reduced lunch. Caucasian students comprised only 21% of the school population but were not part of this study. All but twelve students were instructed entirely by Caucasian teachers. The 51 Caucasian teachers who participated in the present study were part of the school's teaching staff, whose racial makeup was as follows: 78% Caucasians (sex of teacher was split almost equally); 26% African Americans (all females) and 1% Asians. These 51 teachers taught all of the students' core subjects except physical education, so that the only contact the students had with a teacher of their own race was one class 55 minutes) a day. …