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«Behavioral Dissonance and Contested Classroom Spaces: Teachers’ and Students’ Negotiations of Classroom Disciplinary Moments by Rebecca Neal A ...»

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This is important because we also know that schools are embedded with ideologies that unfairly position some students and construct social identities that earmark certain students as problematic. It is in these ways that some teachers’ daily practices (subconsciously or consciously) can work against students. The difference between academic failure or success is deeply affected by how students are thought about, treated and taught by the teachers and administrators of the schools they attend (Nieto, 1999). This same premise can be applied to whether or not students experience social-emotional success or failure at school.

The ideologies that schools have are manifested through their practices of which one includes the overrepresentation of students of color in school discipline sanctions.

These institutional influences represent “what is already there” and are powerful in shaping decisions and teacher- student interactions. When specific groups of students are highly represented in school disciplinary sanctions year after year, race, class and gender become static markers that seem to signify to school personnel that “trouble is on the way” or “has arrived”. It is also through these oppressive practices that students with certain backgrounds (African American, Hispanic, lower socio-economic status) become “tagged” as problematic school contributors. Echoing that idea, Watts and Everelles (2008) indicated that schools use the oppressive ideologies associated with race, class, gender, and disability to justify the social construction of certain students as deviant or rule breaking thereby making it an individual rather than a social problem. Through a Foucaultian analysis of schools, Watts and Everelles (2008) inferred that material school conditions existed that force students, especially African American and Hispanic students from low-income backgrounds to feel vulnerable, angry and viewed as resistant to normative expectations. Also incorporating aspects of Critical Race Theory, Watts and Everelles (2008) further asserted that in U.S. public schools, Whiteness continues to be constructed in such a way that material conditions produce and perpetuate difference to such a marked degree that both African American and Hispanic students experience segregation and discrimination through schools’ sorting practices such as special education identification or school discipline policies.

These authors furthered argued through decisions made by individuals in power (i.e., teachers and administrators) the context of schools thereby manufactures students to become disabled, deviant, compliant, or capable, rendering them trouble makers. It is when race, class, and gender become static markers of negative distortions for teachers to view students, and thereby use their positions of power and influence to construct and label certain groups of students as rule breaking or deviant (Watts & Everelles, 2008) that oppressive ideologies are created, perpetuated and sustained. This type of socially constructed identity can have implications on group labels, group standards, institutional practices, and personal functionality affecting self-esteem and identity.

To address the shortcoming existing within the field of education surrounding discipline inequities, the conceptual framework for this study draws heavily from symbolic interaction (Blumer, 1969; Charon, 2007; Mead, 1934). Insights are also enriched from sociocultural theory (Artiles, 1998; Cole, 1990, 2003; Lantolf, 2000;

Vygotsky, 1978; 1986). It is the blending of the work of these scholars that a more comprehensive foundation for the study of school discipline that is specifically attentive to the role of culture can be achieved.

Symbolic interactionism is a distinctive approach to the study of human social life. It is a perspective that derives meaning of social processes from interactions and is used for the study of human lived experiences. The key principles of this theory are meaning, language and thought. Three major constructs of symbolic interactionism suggest that: (a) people act on the basis of the meanings that things have for them; (b) meanings are derived from social interaction; and (c) meanings are dependent on and modified through an interpretive process that occurs while people interact with one another. The theory suggests that a person’s recollection of events is the basis for their interaction with others. Simply stated, perception mediates behavior. As a theory, symbolic interactionism endeavors to capture the voices, emotions, and actions of people (Denzin, 1989).

In the context of a classroom, a teacher makes decisions, based on their perceptions and beliefs. The same holds true for students. In other words, students and teachers react to what they perceive and the effect of perception can and does influence behavior and decisions. This suggests that if a teacher has the perception that a student is going to misbehave, then that teacher may preempt certain student behaviors (i.e., misbehavior).

Rubovits and Maehr (1971) tested the hypothesis of people acting toward things on the basis of the meanings those things have for them and found similar indications.

They determined that it appeared student performance was influenced by teacher expectations, and that teacher perception seemed to affect teacher behavior directed toward individual and groups of students. Reported in their study was evidence to indicate that teacher expectations did affect teacher behavior which in turn could affect student performance.





Mead (1934) asserted there is a social construction of reality and that people create knowledge to understand and function in the world. He emphasized that people do not build their understanding of the world and their view of themselves in isolation, but rather understand themselves and others through (intersubjective) interaction (Mead, 1934; Singleman, 1972). In this way, reality is seen as dependent on people’s interaction with one another. Within the classroom, teachers and students co-construct their classroom identities through their responses with one another.

Symbolic interactionism proposes that along with influencing interactions between people and among groups of people, one’s own understanding of perception and meanings they give toward things encountered also shapes the way a person views himself. How a person comes to understand their self, how a person understands others, and how others come to understand a person are processes of symbolic interaction.

Steeped in the belief that the emergent self and language are socially embedded as central features of human existence (Prus, 1996), both Mead and Cooley’s characterization places a strong emphasis on how to achieve solutions to ongoing problematic situations and experiences that exist among people. This premise can also perpetuate ongoing negative cycles, such as when students receive social labels like trouble maker or difficult.

Socially constructed identities understood through the application of sociocultural theory and symbolic interactionism suggests that deviance and rule breaking were created by rule enforcers, who acted with bias against others. From this perspective, repeated acts of (perceived) deviance, defiance, disrespect and rule breaking leads to institutional labels which eventually can change a person’s self-identity to view himself or herself as deviant and act accordingly (McDermott, 1977). In a sense, they internalize the label donned to them. Within school settings, labels can also cause others to perceive individuals negatively and foster low expectations and deleterious images for certain student groups.

As it pertains to African American males and prescribed labels, Milner (2007) maintains that:

Entrenched in some teachers’ thinking (often subconsciously) are stereotypes and misconceptions about Black males that prevent teachers from providing the best learning opportunities for students. In short, if teachers believe Black males are destined for failure and apathy, their

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To that end, discipline can be seen as one form of oppression, because only certain groups of students are being positioned as displaying problematic behaviors and labeled as a school problem. So individuals in this group whose behavior is being labeled deviant, through the oppressive ideologies of systems that exist within schools, naming a student’s behavior as “deviant” or a “violation”, “troublesome”, then such students adopt (socially or personally) a corresponding identity as such; and then therefore act out that behavior or are thereby seen that way.

I approach the study of discipline inequities differently in that I examine the moment-to-moment history of interactions between students and teachers while a conflict arises. This perspective is grounded in an interpretive angle because it assumes that teacher-student interactions are mediated by psychological tools that are acquired in cultural contexts (Cole, 2003). For these reasons, it is necessary to study school discipline within the classroom context through the examination of teacher and student interactions.

Thus, this perspective enables us to understand the intrapersonal process that occurs in a student’s mind during instances of teacher-student conflicts, specifically how students mentally negotiate episodes of classroom conflicts. A theoretical underpinning of this perspective is that conflicts are constructed during interactions. Because I study interactions within the context of schools, there is a need to understand the classroom culture as a whole.

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The guiding question addressed in this study was this: How does one’s conceptualizations of misbehavior account for the way classroom disciplinary moments are constructed, interpreted and negotiated between teachers and students?

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I have conducted a qualitative, case-study that relied on ethnographic methods such as participant observations, video classroom recordings, and interviews. I elected to conduct a qualitative study because this type of research enables researchers to understand a phenomenon (in this case, students’ perspectives of teacher and student classroom interactions involving misbehavior and classroom disruptions) about which little is yet known (Strauss & Corbin, 1990). That point was relevant to my research, since interactions between students and teachers represent a phenomenon in discipline that has not received much attention. Specifically, it is not yet known how relational interactions as a construct relates to students’ involvement in classroom discipline matters such as disruptions or misbehavior. To aid in the understanding and investigation of this phenomenon, I relied partially on hypotheses of grounded theory (Glaser, 1992;

Glaser & Strauss, 1967). Grounded theory is a research that is the study of abstract problems and processes (Glaser, 1992) which bodes well for studying the interactions between teachers and students during occurrences of classroom conflict.

In addition, I selected a case study approach because it is well suited for the conceptual framework chosen for this study. In doing so, three goals of this research were accomplished. First, incorporating a blending of two complimentary interpretive approaches allows for the study of how one becomes involved in, sustains, and disembroils with classroom misbehavior. Second, the utilization of Blumer’s Chicago tradition of symbolic interactionism allows for the documentation of interactions among students and teachers linking their behavior. Third, “the most fundamental concept of sociocultural theory is that the human mind is mediated” (Lantolf, 2000, p. 1). Each is relevant in that I investigated the explanations that students provided for their personal involvement in classroom disruptions and studied teachers’ and students’ understandings of misbehavior.

Merriam (1998) notes researchers in education often incorporate theoretical orientations and techniques of data collection and analysis from other disciplines such as psychology, sociology, history, and anthropology. Likewise, LeCompte and Preissle (1993) point out that case studies drawing upon sociology have explored such topics as interaction as a function of classroom structure and the effect on teachers’ interactions with students (LeCompte & Preissle, 1993). Such was the case for this study, as I drew upon ethnographic research methods utilized in other disciplines (e.g., sociology, psychology, anthropology).

My choice to incorporate ethnographic methods was influenced by the fact that ethnographic studies seek to “account for the behavior of people by describing what it is they know” (McDermott, 1976, p. 159). In addition, as a whole, ethnographic research establishes a framework from which combinations of factors related to students’ and teachers’ perceptions of their school experiences as they relate to intrapersonal and interpersonal interactions can be understood. Ethnography is also an approach that can be attentive to studying the unique features of human lived experiences (Prus, 1996); and in this case study teachers’ and students’ interpretations of misbehavior and classroom disruptions.

In addition, an interpretive method is also ideal when addressing matters of interaction and interpretation in the study of human behavior as it offers a means for examining multiple aspects of importance for investigating complex situations. This is particularly helpful when investigating areas of education where little research has been conducted (Laws & McLeod, 2004), and such was the case for this research.

Study Context: Intelligently Designed Academy The study at hand was conducted at Intelligently Designed Academy (IDA)3, upper campus. The study involved two teachers and four students in grades 5th through 8th. At the start of the school year and in the beginning of this study, all students were in one class and rotated from teacher to teacher throughout the day. Four months into the study, classes were reconfigured twice. For one day the 4th and 5th grade students were combined into one class and 6th grade students into another class. After that, classes were again reconfigured and 5th and 6th grade students were combined into a class, and 4th grade was in a class of its own. For the duration of the study, this remained the class structure with each class rotating from teacher to teacher approximately every two hours.



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