«Behavioral Dissonance and Contested Classroom Spaces: Teachers’ and Students’ Negotiations of Classroom Disciplinary Moments by Rebecca Neal A ...»
The study findings also showed how students whose behaviors were perceived outside official norms were placed on the margins; and in many instances excluded by institutional policies and classroom practices. Given that context is essential, Wilson (1977) posited that environments can also generate behaviors. Further, Demanet and Van Houtte (2012) conducted a study investigating teacher’s expectations to student misbehavior. They concluded that student performance was influenced by teacher expectations. Specifically, a correlation between low teacher expectation and self-reports of misconduct. This means that the organization, routines and procedures of Mr. Abram’s and Ms. Esther’s classroom mediated behaviors beyond teachers and students personal interpretation. In this sense, IDA appeared to operate in an intolerant fashion toward specific students. For those reasons, some students were categorized as difficult, challenging, or troublemakers. As such, at IDA, through teachers’ meaning making processes and the classroom context; certain students were manufactured into becoming problematic.
Understanding that identities can be constructed and are also real (Siebers, 2008), suggests that some challenges students face at school are significant in light of the ways in which their historical and cultural identities intersect in the reality of their daily lives within society. This point is critical and pushes back against deficit perspectives that situate students’ difficulties at school to be a result of personal inadequacies (Valencia, 2010).
In a general sense, all of the participants in this study were considered by their teachers and school staff to have strong behaviors. Although all participants were of color, (i.e., African American and Latino); race, class, and gender became static markers of negative distortions (Watts & Everelles, 2008) for Mr. Abrahm to view students, in particular Byron. Mr. Abrahm’s socially constructed identity of Byron had major implications for how he viewed Byron in class. Another byproduct of this socially constructed lens of Byron was his self-image and the idea that he was a “bad” person.
Mead (1934) indicated that people act based on their personal views. In Byron’s case, Mr. Abrahm shared that he thought Byron’s sole purpose was attention getting.
Therefore, when Byron raised his hand in Mr. Abrahm’s class in the same manner as his classmates; because of Mr. Abrahm’s perspectives of Byron, Mr. Abrahm considered Byron’s behavior inappropriate; even when he adhered to classroom rules. This perception is linked to the interpretive meaning making process that Mr. Abrahm used to organize his perception of Byron which typically only included limited parameters in which he (Mr. Abrahm) classified Byron’s behavior as an aberration. This symbolization of Byron as a troublemaker also represents Mr. Abram’s disposition regarding the stigmatization of African American males.
The ideas of bad students or individuals being inherently bad are not new constructs. Deeply represented in the literature on school discipline is the deficit perspective. Negative student perspectives can situate classroom difficulties as something that is produced within, by, or due to individual circumstances (Valencia, 2010). In spite of Byron’s difficulties at school and in Mr. Abrahm’s classroom, research shows that teachers over emphasized the need to control behaviors of African American students (Mendez, Knoff, & Ferron, 2002; Richart et al., 2003; Skiba et al., 2002) and were more likely to demonstrate reactions that appear to be more severe than required (Monroe, 2005). Unfortunately, this finding is also in line with research that suggests teacher perception is stigmatizing toward African American males (Fenning & Rose, 2007);
however, the perception of Byron’s behavior can also be interpreted as a type of “transformational resistance” (Solórzano & Bernal, 2001). Transformational resistance provides a lens for understanding how Byron, Lil P, Cookie, Jonathan, and B.G.
internalized their school experiences and interpersonal interactions. Through transformational resistance, students become active agents that are constantly involved in a meaning making process (Cerecer, Ek, Alanis, & Murakami-Ramalho, (2011). More so transformational resistance allows people (e.g. students) to negotiate with their environment and derive personalized meaning of interactions. In other words, students have agency, and are not simply acted upon; but rather are seen as courageous and skillful “to act on one’s behalf” (Solórzano & Bernal, 2001, p. 316).
Through this perspective, students placed on the margins and perceived as deviant can be seen through a renewed lens of transformational resistance rather than recipients of subjugation or subordination. In particular, the notion of transformational resistance forces the critique of the social conditions surrounding students whose behavior appears to be disruptive (Solórzano & Bernal, 2001). Mr. Abrahm’s publically shared negative perceptions of Byron always being considered “bad” and Byron’s awareness of classroom disciplinary inequities certainly created conditions for students to demonstrate resistant behaviors.
Solórzano (1997) details negative stereotypes of students of color as “images and words that wound” (p. 5). He also suggests critical race theory as a framework for challenging negative stereotypes in classrooms. In doing so, the claim can be made that there is a need to oppose teachers’ negative perceptions of students of color while also legitimizing students’ classroom contributions. As such, attending to race as a factor, race is something that cannot be ignored when explaining individual experiences (Russell, 1992). For that matter, critical race theory challenges the dominant perspectives on race and racism by examining how school policies, perceptions, and teachers’ interactions with students are used to relegate certain student groups (Bell, 1995; Ladson-Billings & Tate, 1995; Solórzano, 1997, 1998; Solórzano, Ceja, & Yosso, 2000; Tate, 1997).
Race mediated classroom processes observed during the construction of student misbehavior. In several instances during class with Mr. Abrahm, Byron was fully engaged and adhering to implicit and explicit classroom rules; however, given Mr.
Abrahm’s conceptions about the role of race in student behavior, often times, Byron’s presence in the classroom represented misbehavior, ignorance, willful disobedience, and a lack of focus (see Figure 6).
Mr. Abrahm’s conceptualizations of misbehavior seemed to embody a type of internalized oppression. He re-appropriated in his classroom through his interactions with students the negative effects of discriminatory acts perpetrated against African American males. In this way, Byron became the symbol for our society’s problems and his classroom behavior (even when appropriate) was viewed negatively by Mr. Abrahm. It is this kind of thinking that often functions as the germination for personal and social ideologies that materialize in classrooms and influence a teacher’s perception of student misbehavior. Watts and Everelles (2008) remind us that it is the contextualizing of these oppressive ideologies that allows those with power (e.g., teachers) to determine behavior considered appropriate for a situation or setting.
Mr. Abrahm’s conceptualizations of Byron also created an interesting inlet into the histories of participation and how participation mediated teachers’ semiotic understandings of behavior. In particular, Mr. Abrahm’s negative conceptions of blackness were the factors that mediated his engagement with the Black male students in his classroom. This cannot be ignored.
Certainly, the influence of using race for explaining discipline inequities has been examined (Howard, 2010; 2014; Losen & Martinez, 2013; Toldson, 2011. The permeated effects of racial oppression transcends time affecting the schooling experiences of Latino and African American male students; and are unfortunately still very much alive in our society today. It can be argued today that schools still function to exclude and deny through special education placement and the high representation of African American male and Latino students in exclusionary discipline practices. For that reason, it is necessary to be cognizant of historical influences and oppression ideologies (Watts & Everelles, 2008).
Recognizing the influence of historical and societal influences was identified as a relational domain of influence for the construction, interpretation, and negotiations of classroom misbehavior and classroom disciplinary moments. Knowing that the history of the United States’ educational system shows that school policies and classroom practices have been used as tools of exclusion for some students is paramount in understanding how the permeated effects of racism in our society can influence classroom disciplinary moments.
The history of societal and educational influences for people of color is known, particularly, African American males. Decades of research document the school failure and disproportionality of students of color in schools’ exclusionary discipline measures and special education placement. Still today, it can be argued the foremost education challenge is to create learning environments that maintain the cultural integrity of every child while enhancing their educational success (Wlodkowski & Ginsberg, 1995) without compromising learning opportunities.
Through socially constructed identities, at minimum African American male students carry two negative societal burdens with them to school: (a) the identity of being a member of the African American race and (b) the stigma of being Black and male (Smith, Allen, & Danley, 2007). With that said, the high representation of African American males in school discipline and their reported school experiences has them adopting socially created identities such as emotional-behavioral disordered, endangered, disabled, criminally minded, dangerous, at risk, and bad (Jackson & Moore, 2006; Majors & Billson, 1992; Monroe, 2005). As such, Skiba et al. (2002) submit that African Americans are regularly excluded through school discipline measures such as suspension and expulsion (Skiba et al., 2002). This same measure of exclusion was also adopted by IDA in that students were routinely removed from class and denied common day privileges such as eating lunch with peers, recess, or participating in physical education.
We know that individuals interpret their world through a cultural lens (Giroux,
1992) and sociocultural influences such as personal values, beliefs, and attitudes influence teacher and student perspectives. We know that within group differences exist.
A common problem when considering culture is the notion that culture is a static collection of characteristics (Rogoff, 2003). Nieto (1999) considers culture as interrelated characteristics that are more than rituals and artifacts. Even more, culture can be local to a context of which includes socioeconomic status, family structure, race, ethnicity and religion (Barrett & Noguera, 2008; Flory & McCaughtry, 2009). With that said, and given the findings of this study, there is a need for a deeper probe and examination into the relational classroom interactions between teachers and students; even with teachers and students are of the same or gender.
It is important to bear in mind that the study design and descriptive nature of the findings allow for further inquiry into the production of classroom misbehavior. Another significant contribution is the new direction of analysis into school discipline and classroom misbehavior. There needs to be a deeper probe into school discipline inequities and the production of misbehavior. We know that a root of disciplinary classroom infractions is perceptions of behaviors and conceptualizations of misbehavior. Years ago, Skiba et al. (2002) reported that disciplinary moments began in the classroom between teachers and students. Knowing teachers’ and students’ conceptualizations of misbehavior can shed light into understanding how classroom disciplinary infractions are created. Understanding the phenomenon of classroom misbehavior also allows insight into school disciplinary inequities.
Future research should examine in more detail the situated nature of classroom misbehaviors and the effects of sociocultural influences on: a) teachers and students conceptualizations, b) interpretations, and c) negotiations of classroom disciplinary moments. Future studies on school discipline should investigate classroom disciplinary moments between teachers and students at an interactional level. Such a focus, will allow researchers to gain insight into teachers’ and students’ meaning making processes of misbehavior and understanding of classroom disciplinary moments.
Because research suggests that teacher-student relationships are a foundational aspect for reducing behavioral referrals (Hamre, Pianta, Downer, & Mashburn, 2007), and teachers’ perceptions of students vary (Gregory & Thompson, 2010); there needs to be closer attention into examining the sociocultural context of classrooms. Teachers and students understandings of the sociocultural knowledge and considerations of cultural factors can improve social, behavioral, and academic learning opportunities (Boykin & Bailey, 2000; Neal et al., 2003). Next steps to continue work on school discipline inequities might be better understood through the contextualization of culture in classrooms.