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An Investigation Into Student Perception of Teacher Behavior
Denise Almeida Silva

“ There is constant evidence that the effect I think I am having on my learners or my trainees is different from the effect I am actually having on them. How I think I am coming across to others seems to be different from how they think I am coming across.”
Adrian Underhill

Have you ever wondered how your students perceive you as a teacher? Has the discrepancy between how you experience yourself as a teacher and your learners’ perception of your performance disturbed you? This study, motivated by the observation of a recurrent mismatch between teacher and student perception of teacher behavior, discusses the results and implications of a Values Clarification Questionnaire on the matter.

Research was based on the items covered by an institutional Teacher Evaluation Form to which students are submitted every semester, and which seeks to test students’ perception of teacher knowledge, managerial and relational skills. In order to gain insight on the parameters used by students to answer the institutional Teacher Evaluation Form, the Values Clarification Questionnaire applied in this research preserved the same questions as the institutional questionnaire, asking students to describe a behavior that justified their answer (see Appendix A). Questionnaires were administered in Portuguese, so that language proficiency would not interfere in the expression of the intended answers. Respondents were intermediate 12 to 25-year-old students, 77% of whom in the age group between 13-16 years old.

Data analysis revealed some broad parameters used by students in the evaluation of teaching practice, five of them centered on pedagogical practice proper and the other based on student perceptions of his/her own learning progress. These parameters recur in the evaluation of diverse aspects of the teaching process. The most frequently mentioned item is the teacher’s ability to motivate the students, which appears as an indicator in the evaluation of six different teacher behaviors/skills: concern for the students, knowledge, ability to keep the class busy, ability to maintain good class pace, ability to give clear explanations and to promote conversation in L2. While some responses to this item refer to a strict teacher-student relationship, most of them show concern with the class-teacher relationship: descriptors like “he/she is able to motivate the class and make everybody understand” are more frequent than responses like “he/she raises my interest” or “I pay attention”. Words like “all” and “everybody” recur in descriptors like: “all the students pay attention and learn in class,” “all students show that they are learning,” or even, “I work well; the group is paying attention and talking in English.” In contrast with answers that point to desired behavior, others shed some light as to which behaviors may provoke it, as in responses that value the teacher’s bringing new things to class, and his/her alternation between classroom environment and the learning center/lab and/or other facilities, option for field trips and occasional breaking news (“he/she knows how to relate contents to what is happening in the world, and has the students think about it”). Whether or not concern for peer performance and support is age-related, reflecting a teenage trait, is yet to be studied.

Percentually, the second most mentioned factor is a relaxed classroom atmosphere, used as a parameter to judge class pace, and a teacher’s ability to keep the class busy and promote conversation in a variety of ways. Descriptors pointed at students’ high valuation of variety and fun, as evident in answers like “proposes fun tasks,” “teaches and plays, using games,” “makes everybody participate in class, proposing fun activities;” a student offered a list of favorite activities: “games, video, computer, songs, and anything that doesn’t allow the class to become boring.” Occasional breaks in class routine are also valued, as in the original comment, “the teacher exempts us from class matters so that we relax once in a while.” Variety, implicit in these activities, seen as a better option than “just using the book,” is explicitly mentioned in responses like “explains in several ways, using games, plays and other things,” and “we learn and we work in a variety of ways.”

The teacher’s ability to detect problems and offer help as well as the ability to explain come next. While the first is seen as an indicator of teacher concern for student learning, the latter, although also considered an indicator of teacher care for the student, is naturally decisive in the judgment of the quality of a teacher’s explanations. Further, it is seen as a key factor in the evaluation of a teacher's knowledge, and as desirable in the ability to promote conversation in L2.

Chief in the perception of the ability to detect problems and offer help is teacher initiative in approaching the student and checking comprehension: “she asks me if I understood the contents,” says a student; “he gives me incentive to clarify my doubts,” offers another. A feeling of satisfaction connected to the perception of care for individual problems seems to be a strong component in the evaluation of this item, as implicit in answers such as “he asks if I understood and stops the class to explain again,” or “she gives me attention in class.” Among younger learners, the perception of the imposition of limits is seen as evidence of a teacher’s ability to help: “she asks if I do the homework or asks me to go to remedial classes, but she calls my attention if I talk too much.” The perception of care for individual problems is also decisive in the valuation of teacher explanation, although the disposition to repeat, and the ability to repeat in different ways are also felt to be important. Typical descriptors are, “she explains in several ways, giving examples,” and “he explains the same thing a thousand times, with patient and in English,” or yet “ he explains until everything becomes clear.” Less frequently stated, but worth mentioning, especially in the light of the institutional policy which encourages the English at all times whenever possible, is the fact that the use of L1 was mentioned as contributing to clear explanations. As Marilyn Lewis (2002:4) defends, limited usage of L1 in class, for specific purposes, can be a motivational factor.

Another item used in the evaluation of diverse pedagogical skills is class pace. Taken as a measure of teacher organization and of his/her ability to keep the class busy, the item is also obviously focused in the answer to the question, “I know that class pace is adequate when...” Perception of good class pace is above all linked to two key factors: perception of student motivation and learning “(everybody understands,” “all the students pay attention and learn”) and good content distribution during the course (“we are not behind schedule,” “we feel at ease with the content (neither too slow, nor too fast).” Optimal content distribution appears in connection with task appropriacy for the level and rhythm of a group in the item referring to the ability to keep the class busy, an item which values above all class integration and motivation, and a balance between task quantity and task quality (the latter including fun and variety). Class pace, again expressed through good content distribution during the course, is also perceived as a sign of teacher organization, as are the perception of having a class plan, consistency between task proposal and task correction/evaluation, task timing and variation, and the ability not to forget class materials and/or proposed tasks.

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