Caring teacher-student relationships and the influence of teachers' identities: a grounded theory approach

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Dooner, Anne-Marie
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This study examines why teachers sometimes struggle to develop caring relationships with their students, despite their intention to do so. To do this, the notion of caring relationships (Mayeroff, 1971) is explored, as well as the influence of teachers’ emotions on these dynamics. The study also examines environmental factors in schools that influence caring teacher-student relationships. In all, fourteen teachers with early, middle, and senior years experience participated in two focus-groups each, and seven of these participants were interviewed individually. Because this study adopts a grounded theory approach, the coding of data is foundational to the data analysis. More specifically, open (Charmaz, 2006; Glaser, 1978), focused (Charmaz, 2006), and selective coding (Glaser, 1978) are used to identify the emergent categories in the data, and how they interrelate with each other. Theoretical coding (Charmaz, 2006; Glaser, 1978) is used to link emergent categories to extant literature to further develop the study’s conceptualization. The findings suggest that teachers’ emotions and more specifically, fear, guilt, and shame, reflect the dissonance that they sometimes experience as they align their idealized views of themselves with their roles in their teaching (McCall & Simmons, 1978). Building on earlier work by Beijaard (1995) and Nias (1989, 1996), this study’s findings suggest that teachers rely primarily on their students to gauge their success in their role and their identities as teachers. Also, teachers’ competitive relationships with their colleagues often reflect their unintentional attempts to protect their relationships with students from the influences of other adults, so as to safeguard their students as their primary source of role support. This not only raises questions about the caring nature of teachers’ relationships with their students (Mayeroff, 1971), but it also underscores the fact that teachers’ collaboration in schools is frequently superficial in quality. This study also suggests that teachers tend to isolate themselves in their classrooms and have little awareness of how their responses to their emotions in teaching influence their caring relationships with students. Finally, the findings indicate that school administrators can act as important role support for teachers as they develop caring relationships with their students.
Grounded Theory, Teacher-Student Relationships, Teacher Identities, Caring