A Qualitative Investigation of Black Middle School Students' Experiences of the Role of Teachers in Learning and Achievement


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Virginia Tech


This study involved a qualitative investigation of Black middle school students' experiences of teacher characteristics that they saw as influential in their learning and achievement. The sample consisted of 8 students selected from a public middle school in central Virginia . Data collection involved both in-depth individual interviews and classroom observations. Interviews focused on the participants' early educational experiences, middle school experiences with teachers, and experiences of the role that teachers play in learning and achievement. Classroom observations provided additional insight into the classroom setting, participants' actions, and participants' interactions with teachers and other students and were conducted to minimize their influence on classroom activities.

A whole-text analysis of the interview transcripts and field notes generated 5 major categories: elementary school experiences, instructional environment, student motivation, student trust, and racism. For each category, subcategories were also developed. Participants were motivated by teacher trust, encouragement, and expectations. They emphasized the need for equity in the classroom as a prerequisite to academic achievement. They were also motivated to learn by teachers who shared instructional and personal time, spoke positively to them about their future, shared their own educational experiences, and demonstrated a caring attitude toward them. Participants described how they were not motivated to learn by teachers who were viewed as racist, yelled at them, refused to spend time assisting them, or displayed an attitude of apathy. They also expressed how they were sometimes denied bathroom privileges, were separated from White students during class, were treated as if they were "invisible," or were treated like second-class citizens. They also experienced racism as prevalent in teachers' grading practices.

Significant findings include the following: (a) the Black middle school student participants' educational experiences influenced their learning and the classroom environment, (b) duration of instructional time influenced students' learning, (c) high teacher expectations of students and teacher encouragement of discussions beyond course subject matter increased students' motivation to learn, (d) development of a trusting teacher–'student relationship promoted their learning, and (e) various forms of racism decreased students' willingness to learn. Implications of the findings for educational practice and further research are discussed.



Achievement Gap, Black Middle School Students, Teacher Characteristics, Student Learning, Academic achievement