A Phenomenological Study of High Performing Middle School Students and Their Experiences of The Development of Their Relationships with Their Teachers

Open Access
Clapper, Christy Ann
Graduate Program:
Educational Leadership
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
April 21, 2008
Committee Members:
  • James F Nolan Jr., Committee Chair
  • Bernard Joel Badiali, Committee Member
  • Jolynn Carney, Committee Member
  • Iris M Striedieck, Committee Member
  • teacher-student relationships
  • student experiences of relationships with teachers
  • developing relationships between teachers and stud
  • middle school student-teacher relationships
ABSTRACT This qualitative study examined the experiences of the developing teacher-student relationship from the perspective of a small group of high performing middle school students. Using qualitative methodology including interviews and diary entries, data were collected over several months and analyzed to derive an understanding of the student perspectives on teacher interpersonal behaviors, teacher functional behaviors in the classroom, student learning behaviors, and teacher reactive behaviors in response to students' behaviors. The students’ insights in this investigation offered an unexpected perspective on the interpersonal and technical behaviors of their teachers not currently present in the literature. Their achievement motivation and outcomes were the overriding influences in the development of the teacher-student relationship, and not a relationship of affiliation with the teacher as had been expected. Second, the teacher-student relationship established patterns of interaction and expectations quite early in its development. Evidence over a period of months indicated that little had changed in the students’ perceptions of their relationships with their teachers, suggesting the possibility exists that the opportunity for teachers to connect positively with students is quite limited and occurs in a very short amount of time; the implications of which mean that recovery from a negative relationship might be difficult to overcome. Important to the students was the notion of being able to predict how teachers would behave in class and with students, how well they would perform their duties, how they would treat the students, and how they might administer the use of humor with them and their peers. Also important was the need for students to determine teacher expectations in order to earn the acceptance of their teachers through compliance and performance. The conditional nature of the teacher-student relationship elicited a number of questions for further investigation into the phenomenon of this relationship. Information learned from this investigation has provided the impetus for a variety of future studies as well as a number of opportunities for teacher training and professional development. It also has opened the door for deeper inquiry into this phenomenon for other students.