«Behavioral Dissonance and Contested Classroom Spaces: Teachers’ and Students’ Negotiations of Classroom Disciplinary Moments by Rebecca Neal A ...»
Perceptions included teachers’ and students’ impressions about one another and fairness of school discipline policies. The literature relating to profiles included demographic information such as who are the students involved in school discipline. School disciplinary sanction patterns included information about disciplinary infractions such as types of student offenses and issued sanctions. Included also in this knowledge base were at least three traditional explanations for the disproportionate representation of African American male and Latino students in school discipline: (a) cultural differences, (b) cultural deficit perspectives, and (c) institutional factors.
In line with this research, the findings of this study indicated that teachers’ and students’ sense making of misbehavior were mediated by a composite of influences that included their personal conceptualizations and interpretations of misbehavior, and IDA’s policies (i.e. perceptions, institutional factors, profiles, and disciplinary sanction patterns). In addition, teachers’ and students’ evaluations of interpersonal interactions during classroom disciplinary moments also influenced their sense making of misbehavior. Although Mr. Abrahm, Ms. Esther, Byron, Lil P, Jonathon, and B.G. were African American, they each understood and negotiated classroom disciplinary moments differently. This is an interesting pattern in the study evidence in light of what has been reported in the literature—(e.g., cultural synchronization and Black-student to Whiteteacher binaries).
Black-student to White-teacher binary was heavily articulated in the discipline research on perceptions and sanction patterns. On the surface, the student population at IDA appeared homogenous with the majority of students being African American and living in poverty. Additionally, nearly all of the teachers were African American, but none lived in poverty. This point illustrates the urgency to infuse analytical attention to within-group differences in studies of educational equity and opportunity. Cultural differences between teachers and students could also be due to difference, geographic upbringing, internalized oppression, or a myriad of other sociocultural factors (Howard, 2010, Morris, 2005; Hinojosa, 2008; Vavrus & Cole, 2002).
Several frameworks have addressed the role of culture in schools: multicultural education (Banks, 1992; 2009); culturally relevant teaching (Howard, 2001, 2003;
Ladson-Billings, 2014, 1995); cultural responsive teaching (Gay, 2010); cultural synchronization (Monroe, 2006; Monroe & Obidah, 2004); and cultural discontinuity (Allen & Boykin, 1992; Ogbu, 1982; Self & Milner, 2012). This work suggests that knowledge of community dynamics, community influences, and the ability to implement strategies reflective of personal cultural knowledge can bridge cultural differences that exist at schools between teachers and students (Bondy, Ross, Gallingane & Hambacher, 2007; Brown, 2014); however, not well articulated within the literature especially pertaining to school discipline, is recognizing the powerful mediating role of within group differences. Attention to within group difference in future discipline inequities research will require a deeper examination of the production of classroom disciplinary moments.
The study findings are significant given the fact that members of the same minority group have been treated as monolithic populations (Artiles, Rueda, Salazar, & Higareda, 2005; Arzubiaga, Artiles, King, Harris-Murri, 2008). It reveals how the construction of misbehavior across different African American students as well as African American teachers can be different. Notably, the study findings also dispel the image that all African American students misbehave. Furthermore, because misbehavior was co-constructed in different ways between two African American teachers and their African American students, the heterogeneity within the African American population is exposed. An added importance of these findings is to learn more about the situated nature of misbehavior to discover how context along with perceptions mediate classroom disciplinary moments between teachers and students.
A corollary to the preceding discussion is that skin color alone (i.e., race) is not the required ingredient for determinations of cultural discontinuity, synchronization (Irvine, 2003) or cultural congruence (Lee, 2003). There is no doubt that considering the role of race and culture in schools can benefit certain student groups when considering community dynamics and cultural knowledge (Flory & McCaughtry, 2009). This is true especially considering that teachers’ and students’ perspectives are influenced by their personal values, lived experiences, and views. For example, in the case of Byron and Mr.
Abrahm, he knew Byron was a lower achieving student and lived in poverty. Shaping his interactions with Lil P, Mr. Abrahm knew he was an above-average student. It could be said, that in spite of the presumed cultural continuity indexed in skin color, teachers and students still struggled to understand each other’s behavior.
How do Teachers and Students Negotiate Classroom Disciplinary Moments?
Osher et al., (2007) indicated that teacher and student responses to one another may also contribute to instances of classroom disciplinary moments and classroom disruptions. This too was the case for this study. In Mr. Abrahm’s and Ms. Esther’s classrooms, students and teachers influenced each other’s behavior by co-creating new stimuli or reacting to old stimuli. The interactions between teachers and students involved mental, emotional and physical shifts. Teachers and students would position themselves through personal responses or initiated actions with one another.
Teachers and students ideas of misbehavior reflected a highly complex process.
They developed order and logic as a way to organize their own thinking to relate to each other (McDermott, 1977). In doing so, within Mr. Abrahm’s and Ms. Esther’s classrooms, the production of misbehavior involved multiple and simultaneous negotiated aspects of behavior that began with a student exhibiting externalized behaviors. It was a student’s behavior that typically functioned as the impetus for a relay of behaviors between teachers and students that led to various formations of classroom misbehaviors (i.e., exchanges, episodes, events).
The creation of misbehavior was dynamic and took shape in a multitude of ways.
Results indicated that teachers’ and students’ had varying perceptions of misbehavior and that classroom disciplinary moments were malleable. Because of the variety of teachers’ and students’ conceptualizations of misbehavior, classroom disciplinary moments had “ooblick” like qualities in that personal interpretations of interactions could change.
Thus, the study of classroom disciplinary moments is complicated by the fluid nature of misbehavior.
Given its negotiated nature, the meaning of misbehavior changed based on context and personal interpretation. A potential consequence of this fact is that teachers can contribute to perpetuating social inequities if they are not aware of the situated nature of misbehavior (Villegas & Lucas, 2002). Making the findings of this study timely, Swadener and O’Brien (2009) recommended teachers understand students in the context of their daily realities. Mathur (2007) also pointed out that a teacher’s conscientiousness impacts students’ classroom experiences.
The formations of classroom disciplinary moments at IDA involved teachers responding to students’ behaviors and the subsequent students’ responses. This back and forth notion determined the length of classroom disciplinary moments. It was during the unfolding of classroom disciplinary moments that I was able to discover that teachers’ and students’ notions of misbehavior changed in live context.
Marzano, Marzano, and Pickering (2003) support this notion and indicated in their study that teachers’ management of the social context of classrooms can impact student outcomes. Within this study, an example of teachers’ management style that impacted student outcomes was Mr. Abrahm’s “singling out” students and Ms. Esther saying to Cookie that “you stand out more.” In Mr. Abram’s case, his singling out students was negative in that he was attempting to identify the student he thought was misbehaving. By doing so, he brought negative attention to students’ behavior that generally resulted in students being sanctioned or having some adverse internalized or externalized response (i.e. immediate response). In the case of Ms. Esther, her management style of paying additional attention to “students standing out more” equated to extending behavioral latitude toward some students (e.g. Cookie). This meant sometimes students would openly violate a classroom rule, but their behavior would be of no consequence. The resulting outcome was then an intact classroom where all students remained in class; however, on the opposite end of the spectrum, because a student “stood out more,” when a class disruption occurred involving multiple students, those singled out students were approached first, assumed culpable and often issued a reprimand.
Reaching mutual understandings of the meanings of symbols involves mediation of cultural tools (Cole, 1993; Vygotsky, 1981) and simultaneous conceptual agreements among people. Integral to this study’s findings is the belief that teachers and students interpretive processes involve symbols, signification and action. Relative to this research, studying classroom disciplinary moments between teachers and students as they occurred in real time revealed that conceptual misalignments happened when simultaneous understandings of moments were not achieved.
It was during these occurrences of perceptual and conceptual misalignments among teachers and students that varying ideas of misbehavior constituted the gestation of contested classroom spaces. The process of interpretation also functioned as an intermediary between one’s proclivity to act and the act itself. In this way a “situation has meaning only through a person’s interpretations and definitions of it” (Bogdan & Taylor, 1975, p.14).
Classrooms are very complex settings and represent the convergences of a multitude of cultures. The cultural intersectionalities (e.g., the development, articulation, appropriation, beliefs, and discursive practices) that exist within a classroom represent awareness that we inhabit and are inhabited by “multiple categories of identity,” (Lorde, 2013, p. 177). It is at the intersection of race, gender, social class, sexual orientation, ability, deviant, and other identity categories, that classrooms have become the spaces for cultural collisions and distortions (Artiles, 2003; Crenshaw, 1989; Howard, 2014;). It is in the collision of ideas, beliefs, and practices that seems to breed common threads of misunderstanding between teachers and students.
In this research, I documented that learning spaces (i.e. classrooms) have unique rhythms and flows. With Mr. Abrahm’s and Ms. Esther’s classrooms were a convergence of cultures. It was the amalgamation of ‘complexities of cultures’ (Artiles, in press), that teachers and students were able to weave threads of opposition and rejection or of acceptance. The cultural cadence of a classroom (i.e. the rhythm and flow of the environment through students and teachers use of and mediation of cultural tools) at times created a melodic or dissonant environment. At the school level, cultural cadences encompassed rules and regulations, policies and practices, implementation of policies, relational interactions, and the like. A dissonant environment, in short, describes limited agreements in how established procedures play out in the daily lived experiences between students and teachers.
A clashing of ideas, the over use of behavioral referrals, teachers’ presumption of guilt for students when they are involved in classroom disciplinary moments creates behavioral dissonance and contested classroom spaces. When behavioral dissonance occurs, the rhythm and flow of the classroom ceases to exist in harmony; and instead a collision of pressing ideas and actions has negative impacts.
When agreement among varying beliefs is achieved the cultural cadences of a classroom sets forth the opportunity for teachers and students to achieve repose among the differing cultural experiences and personal perspectives that can exist within classrooms. Melodic cultural cadence can also create a sense of cultural repose and resolution that sets forth pathways for differing cultural experiences and perspectives to harmoniously exist within classrooms. In achieving melodic cultural cadences as opposed to behavioral dissonance that results in the unjust and unfair treatment of students can be achieved through a deeper examination into the sociocultural context of classrooms where disciplinary conflicts occur.
Gregory and Weinstein’s (2008) study examined teacher perspectives and found behavioral referrals were specific to situational contexts. Similar to their findings of variability in insolent behavior, Mr. Abrahm thought Byron’s actions to be deceptive and challenging to his authority. In an interview with Mr. Abrahm he admitted to having some negative views regarding the Black community. Although Mr. Abrahm, Lil P, and Byron shared a common heritage, Mr. Abrahm’s cultural beliefs celebrated Lil P’s classroom contributions and interpreted Byron’s classroom contributions negatively. As such, Mr. Abrahm’s variances in perceptions of students created spaces for misunderstanding that ultimately lead to classroom disciplinary moments (Howard, 2010;
Morris, 2005; Hinojosa, 2008; Vavrus & Cole, 2002). Most apparent were the individual expectations Mr. Abrahm held for Byron and Lil P. Even though Mr. Abrahm, Lil P, and Byron are Black males, at times Mr. Abrahm had conflicting perspectives of them.
In doing so, Mr. Abrahm’s perceptions of Black boys made Byron’s representation in classroom disciplinary inequities at times inescapable.
Even though the meanings that people have about things are not fixed and perceptions can change through interactions (Hewitt, 1988); Mr. Abrahm’s significations of Byron representing misbehavior remained consistent throughout the duration of this study. Given the sensitive nature of classroom discipline along with its intended and unintended consequences; the findings in this study align with previous research regarding teachers’ deficit perspectives of students of color (Artiles, 2003; Gay, 2010;