Academic journal article International Education Studies

High School Students' Perceptions of and Attitudes towards Teacher Power in the Classroom

Academic journal article International Education Studies

High School Students' Perceptions of and Attitudes towards Teacher Power in the Classroom

Article excerpt


The present study examines Greek High School students' perceptions of and attitudes towards their teachers' power, from findings produced during a questionnaire-based study conducted in the period 2010-2011, with the participation of 1076 students attending 68 schools across Greece. Greek students provided information on how their teachers exert didactic and legitimate power in the classroom and on how students themselves react whenever their teachers abuse power. Data elaboration, statistical and factor analysis showed that, according to students, teachers exert didactic power mainly by exhibiting profound knowledge and applying effective teaching and assessment methods, while they exert legitimate power through implementing rules, inflicting punishment and controlling students' behaviour. The study also showed that students react passively to power abuse due to fear of possible consequences, aggressively when a teacher's power is regarded as excessively unfair, or positively when relations of trust and acceptance have been established between the teacher and the student.

Keywords: teacher power, students' perceptions, secondary education, Greece

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1. Introduction

The review of international literature referring to 'teacher power' within the school setting reveals that notion and connotations of the term have progressively changed through time. Initially and traditionally, teacher power simply denoted teachers' academic or behavioural demands which students should passively and without any objection obey to (Petersm, 1966; Metz, 1978; Kearney, Plax, Richmond, & McCroskey, 1984; Franklin, 1986). Richmond and McCroskey (1984) defined teacher power as teachers' capacity to influence their students to do something [i.e. to participate in the learning process] they would not have done had they not been influenced by the teacher. Consequently, according to these researchers, if a teacher does not exert power in a classroom, that teacher cannot enhance students' learning outcomes and, therefore, s/he cannot be described as an effective professional.

Today, 'teacher power' is specified mainly as a combination of 'didactic' and 'legitimate' power. According to Harjunen (2009), didactic is the power teachers exert on their students based on profoundly assimilated knowledge of the subject content and of teaching tactics that facilitate effective knowledge dissemination. According to McCroskey and Richmond (1983), legitimate power is the right teachers have to make certain demands and requests as a function of their position as teachers. More specifically, teachers have the statutory or customary right to set behavioural rules, inflict punishments, establish rules and principles for student-teacher communication and create the pedagogical atmosphere in the classroom, developing, in this way, relations with the students on the basis of the teacher's personal criteria.

Defining further teacher power and its constituent elements McCroskey and Richmond (1983) remarked that the ways teachers communicate with their students to a large extent determines the type and the extent of the power they exert over those students, while the same researchers added that teacher power exists only in so far as students perceive it to exist and accept it (Richmond & McCroskey, 1984). This acceptance was described by van Manen (1991) as a major constituent element of teacher power which 'is granted by the child, first on the basis of his/her trust and love, and later on the basis of critical understanding'. Pace and Hemmings (2007) reported that in the real world of classrooms, teacher power is enacted through on-going negotiations between teachers and students and often involves conflict that affects the balance of legitimacy and consent. Finally, Harjunen (2011) confirmed that teacher power is based on a combination of interactions between teacher and students in the classroom where enduring tension between positive and negative aspects of teacher power is displayed. …

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