Academic journal article Education

The Elephant in the Classroom: The Impact of Misbehavior on Classroom Climate

Academic journal article Education

The Elephant in the Classroom: The Impact of Misbehavior on Classroom Climate

Article excerpt


Classrooms are complex societies where students and teachers live and interact with each other. Teachers are the leaders of these societies and the way they exercise their leadership abilities greatly affect the quality of interactions that take place between teachers and students as well as the interactions that take place between and among the students themselves. These interactions, both social and instructional, have a great impact on the academic and social growth of the students assigned to a given teacher's classroom.

Educational scholars have suggested for decades that the group dynamics of a classroom needs to be analyzed in order to fully understand how teachers best function in their role and how students best learn (Bracey, 2009a; Pianta, 2006; Eisner, 1984; Schlechty, 1976; Lortie, 1975; Jackson, 1968; Waller, 1961). Bracey (2009b) noted that educational research should focus on the way teachers and students interact and how teachers structure learning environments to promote these interactions. Research that focuses on how the average student or average teacher functions on an isolated task misses the significance of understanding how teachers and students interact in the learning environment and how the internal relationships in a classroom impact both student and teacher behavior.

The purpose of this study was to conduct a comparative analysis in order to determine what life is like for students and teachers in classrooms where teachers have been categorized as strong by their principals vis-a-vis those classrooms where teachers have been categorized as needs improvement by the same principals. Specifically, the relationship existing between student and teacher interactions and student and teacher time-on-task was analyzed. The reported findings have significant implications for teacher educators who are guiding pre-service and in-service teachers in their development of productive learning environments.

Review of Literature

Teachers have varied opinions regarding what they believe are effective techniques for managing children's behavior in a classroom setting. In fact, classroom management may be the most discussed topic among teachers at all grade levels and career stages. A number of studies suggest that a direct link exists between teachers' ability to manage classroom behavior and their students' learning. For example, Baugous and Bendery (2000) suggested students are on task more in classrooms that have fewer management problems; it has been reported that such management problems tend to distract both teachers and students making it difficult for either to focus on learning experiences (Clough, Smassal, & Clough, 1994). Prater (1992) reported, the optimal teaching and learning environment is one where the teacher puts an emphasis on preventing management disruptions because such an environment will likely increase student time-on-task and, of course, learning. Finally, Rimm-Kaufmann, La Paro, Downer, and Pianta (2005) found that high classroom quality was most consistently related to a low number of management problems.

Additionally, management problems can affect the amount and quality of interactions in the classroom. It has been reported that teachers are less apt to have positive interactions with behaviorally challenging students and even avoid contact with these students as stress levels increase (Abidin & Kmetz, 1997). Schlechty's classic work (1976) described a similar type of teacher behavior as retreating; that is, the teacher failed to react when students' violated previously written or stated rules for conduct.

The Research Project

Recently, the authors conducted a study to examine life in two distinctly different types of classrooms: those with teachers categorized as strong and those categorized as needs improvement. It is important to note that, during the data collection phase of this project, the researchers had no knowledge as to how the teachers had been categorized. …

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