Influence of Teachers’ Attitudes on Student Behavior and Achievement

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The rationale for the study

The effects of teacher attitudes on student behavior and performance in grades kindergarten through fifth have been explored through a study by Rosenthal and Jacobson in 1968 when they published ‘Pygmalion in the classroom’. During this period, public interest and a heated professional controversy arose in the perception that the expectations of a teacher regarding the ability of the child/student have a great impact on the child’s learning in the classroom and his/her test performance.

Several articles and perspectives have appeared in the press where the data published by Rosentho and Jacobson was interpreted to give the notion that a child’s classroom performance can be greatly improved by “making the teacher think better of the child’s ability” (Pransky and Bailey, 2009). This was also followed by serious doubts being cast on the reliability and validity of the data published by Rosenthal and Jacobson. These doubts have been widely expressed in many professional studies and research work (Pransky and Bailey, 2009).

The aim of conducting this study is to determine how teacher attitudes affect student behavior and performance in grades Kindergarten through fifth. The results of this study will be beneficial as crucial information will be elicited which will benefit policymakers, curriculum developers, parents, and teachers and help them to devise strategies that instill confidence in students to enhance better performance and appropriate behavior. This is amidst a culturally diverse learning environment where teacher attitudes are likely to ensue (Howard & Del Rosario, 2000).


The general hypothesis for this study is that a positive relationship exists between teacher attitudes and the behavior and performance of students in grades kindergarten through fifth. Positive teacher attitudes favor higher grades and imitation of appropriate behavior, while negative teacher attitudes cause lower grades and imitation of inappropriate behavior.


The objectives (for this study) include the following:

  1. To assess the teacher attitudes present in the school environment.
  2. To measure the academic achievement and attitude and behavior of students in grade Kindergarten through fifth.
  3. To investigate the relationship, if any, between teacher attitudes and academic achievement and student behavior.


The following limitations which will affect the interpretation of results, conclusions, and recommendations are present in this study:

  1. The sample is limited to public schools from a rural setting in the United States.
  2. The sample only includes children/students and teachers with the school’s permission to participate in this study and hence the sample is not a probability sample of the population.
  3. No control group is utilized.


The following factors are fundamental to this study and are assumed to be true:

  1. Classroom grades are a valid measure of the academic performance of the students.
  2. Student performance and behavior are solely compared to teacher attitudes while ignoring the effects of other variables (e.g. extraneous effects like intrinsic motivation) on student performance.
  3. The context of the classroom environment is treated as static, hence was not to be explained.

Exploration of Terms Used


The concept of attitude entails an individual’s way of thinking, acting, or behaving (Pransky and Bailey, 2009). According to a study carried out in Nigeria by Bandura, the attitude has marked implications on the learner, the teacher, and the immediate social groups. The attitude of the teacher towards the student will also affect how he or she will interact with the whole system of an academic institution. Other studies by Baker and Crist (1981) and several others have also suggested that students develop certain attitudes and behaviors towards learning because of the learning experiences and the teaching environment (Pransky and Bailey, 2009; Baker and Crist, 1981).

Baker and Crist (1981) further assert that a certain attitude and behavior in students may be instilled or learned simply by following what the teacher does either through his/her opinion. This is because students regard teachers as their example and role model. Thus students tend to mimic and/or imitate what the teacher does or how he or she behaves, which ultimately has marked effects on the learning situation. Therefore in this respect, the learners’ attitudes are drawn from the teachers’ dispositions which are used to form their attitudes that have a likely effect on the students’ learning outcomes (Baker and Crist, 1981; Pransky and Bailey, 2009).

Culturally Responsive Teaching

According to Howard & Del Rosario (2000), culturally responsive teaching involves a kind of teaching where teachers are more acquainted with the world of the students or children and attempt to offer better opportunities for the success of learning. This is in terms of developing positive attitudes towards the learning processes (Pransky and Bailey, 2009). Howard & Del Rosario have suggested that positive teacher attitudes are fostered in a culturally responsive learning environment and this facilitates and supports the success of the majority of students (Howard & Del Rosario, 2000).

Though other factors such as intrinsic motivation of students have been attributed to the success of students (Irvine, 2003), a culturally responsive environment also favors success as it instills a positive attitude in teachers towards teaching and the process of learning (Howard & Del Rosario, 2000). This is through the creation of an environment where learning is made intriguing and students feel welcomed, supported, and provided with immense opportunities of learning in total disregard of cultural or linguistic inclinations (Pransky and Bailey, 2009).

Culturally responsive teaching focuses on academic achievement, cultural competence, and socio-political consciousness which forms a conducive environment for schooling and learning and helps teachers develop attitudes that are motivating to their students thus favoring their academic success and performance (Howard & Del Rosario, 2000; Irvine, 2003).

Literature Review

This section of the paper is a review of research literature about how teacher attitudes affect student behavior and performance in grades Kindergarten through fifth. The purpose of this review of literature is to elicit crucial information which will be useful to policymakers, curriculum developers, parents, and teachers on the importance of adopting approaches that instill confidence in students to enhance better performance and appropriate behavior.

In all school settings be it elementary, secondary, or higher education, the motivation of students towards learning is usually perceived as one of the most influential determinants of student behavior and high quality and successful learning outcomes (Pransky and Bailey, 2009). The motivation of students (hence their performance and behavior) in such settings may be influenced positively or negatively by teacher attitudes towards teaching and learning (Baker and Crist, 1981).

Effect of Teacher Attitudes on Student Behavior and Performance

Ever since Baker and Crist’s ‘the Pygmalion’ was published, there has been increasing focus on arguments that mention the effects of attitudes/bias of the teacher on the child or student (Baker and Crist, 1981). It has been suggested in other areas that teachers may sometimes suppress the learning and performance of some students because of the basic reason that they subjectively feel that such students cannot grasp such material in a manner that is as quick as the way other students would. This attitude can be perceived in terms of aspects of bias which occurs when objective measures fail to show the differences which exist in terms of the potential of learning between students expected to perform poorly as compared to other students in the same class (Swartz, 2003, Irvine, 2003).

According to Howard & Del Rosario (2000) and articles published in the European Journal of Social Sciences by Pransky and Bailey (2009), increased cultural diversity is on the rise in most American schools with constant homogeneity in the teaching force which is predominately white, female and middle class. This occurs amidst the struggling teacher education programs which are still not up to the task of teaching a school population that favors diversity. This has often been attributed to several interrelated factors (Irvine, 2003). Many authors have given the example of teachers having a limited cultural-knowledge base. This leads to a negative attitude towards certain cultural groups (Howard & Del Rosario, 2000).

For example, according to research by Irvine (2003), pre-service teachers have low expectations and negative beliefs/attitudes towards the academic success of nonwhite students, even though they have undertaken multi-cultural education course work (p.xvi). Irvine referred to this phenomenon as ‘cultural discontinuity’ which has the potential to cause stereotyping and prejudice between teachers and students thus causing the teachers to “ignore their students” ethnic identities and their unique cultural beliefs, perceptions, values and worldviews” (Irvine, 2003, p. xvii). This devalues the contribution of the students towards the classroom environment causing them to be demoralized hence low academic performance (Irvine, 2003, p. xvii).

According to Howard & Del Rosario (2000) and Pransky and Bailey (2009), ‘cultural discontinuity’ can affect the attitudes and expectations of teachers, which has a direct effect on the academic performance of the children or students from kindergarten through fifth grade. This is because such pre-service teachers tend to have the affirmation that “what is different is inferior” hence the likelihood of causing poor academic performance especially in the perceived group of students (Pransky and Bailey, 2009; Howard & Del Rosario, 2000).

According to Howard & Del Rosario (2000) and Forlenza, Bailey, & Shaw (1999), the most influential determinant of the academic performance of children is teacher quality and attitude, which is developed through effective teacher education programs that prepare prospective teachers who are highly qualified and focused on a culturally responsive pedagogy which is systematic and cohesive and runs through the entire curriculum. Howard and Del Rosario (2000) further assert that teacher educators who involve dialogue and give opportunities for obtaining competencies, skills, knowledge, and attitudes have recorded success as they train teachers who have achieved equity and excellence for many students in the education system and schools which have become culturally diverse.

Research has proven that teachers’ attitudes which are shaped objectively have an upper hand in enhancing a successful and conducive learning environment and better performance of children or students. This is because such teachers have better knowledge of their children’s or students’ world hence they work together with students and open chances for learning success and better academic performance (Howard & del Rosario, 2000; Pransky and Bailey, 2009).

According to a study conducted in Nigeria, one acquires certain behaviors through watching other people like models, teachers, parents, mentors, or friends. The learner observes by watching and tries to imitate certain kinds of behavior. In an invariable perspective, teachers are therefore like role models of their students. Thus the behaviors/attitudes of teachers are likely to be copied by their students (Howard & Del Rosario, 2000; Pransky and Bailey, 2009).

According to Baker and Crist (1981), the likes and dislikes of teachers and what they appreciate including the feelings of students’ learning and studies have a tremendous effect on the behavior and academic performance of students. This is despite the lack of realization among teachers that how they behave and teach and their interaction with students are more important than what they teach. Thus, in summary, Baker and Crist (1981) assert that teachers’ attitudes have a direct impact on the attitudes of their students and such attitudes are manifested through behavior. Therefore according to Baker and Crist, teachers’ attitudes towards students affect the students’ academic performance.

According to Gay (2000), a culturally responsive teaching environment has proved to be successful. This is because, in a culturally responsive teaching environment, teachers adopt objective approaches devoid of preformed negative attitudes towards certain student groups. This has recorded success since it supports the achievements of all students by avoiding negative attitudes and socio-political prejudices during the learning process (Gay, 2000).

In addition, a culturally responsive teaching environment creates a learning environment where all students feel welcomed, supported, and provided with the best learning opportunities regardless of their cultural or linguistic background or socio-political affiliation (Howard and Del Rosario, 2000; Pransky and Bailey, 2009). This approach enhances the success of students and can be made more effective by adopting approaches within a teaching framework that is culturally responsive (Gay, 2000; Swartz, 2003; Irvine, 2003; Pransky and Bailey, 2009).

According to Gay (2000), the approach mentioned above has recorded success as it entails: academic achievement where learning is of high quality and is made exciting, challenging, and equitable; cultural competence was different cultural and linguistic groups are known and put into consideration to facilitate the learning process; and sociopolitical consciousness where students are assisted and recognized to understand that education and schooling do not occur in a vacuum. Under these circumstances, teachers can meet the needs of a diverse number of students as the teachers’ attitudes are sensitive to the needs, abilities, and interests of students, their parents, and the community thus enhancing the academic success of such students. In addition, this approach also enhances the success of students as it validates them as a whole (Gay, 2000; Forlenza, Bailey and Shaw, 1999; Pransky and Bailey, 2009).

According to studies by the United States Department of Education in 1994, positive attitudes of both teachers, parents, and the community towards a child or student’s education go a great mile to promote the growth of children emotionally, physically, and academically. This is because of the sense of motivation which is extrinsically imparted in them, thus recording better performance in classwork and significantly contributing, in various ways, to improved student outcomes regarding school success and learning (Gay, 2000).

The effect of teachers’ attitudes towards student performance and behavior has been explored through the way teachers teach various subjects. According to Forlenza, Bailey, and Shaw (1999) and the United States Department of Education, negative attitudes towards teaching (e.g. teachers with a negative attitude or those who teach science subjects in ways that merely require pupils to listen, read and regurgitate) affect the attitudes of students and their achievement in certain subjects. Similar studies have also been conducted which have reported that attitudes of teachers towards science and mathematics subjects significantly predict how their students will perform in science subjects as well as their attitudes towards learning (Pransky and Bailey, 2009).

According to Forlenza, Bailey, and Shaw (1999), the attitudes of teachers towards biology teaching greatly contribute towards variations that exist in the cognitive achievements of students. This is similar to other subjects such as integrated sciences. This topic has further been expounded by other researchers e.g. Irvine (2003) and Baker and Crist (1981), who have suggested that positive attitudes and best academic achievement of students towards science can be enhanced by teacher-related attitudes such as enthusiasm, resourcefulness, helpful behavior, extensive knowledge of the subject matter and the ability of such teachers to make the teaching of this subject to be interesting (Pransky and Bailey, 2009).

Research Methodology

Research Design

The study is a descriptive study that investigates the effects of teacher attitudes on student behavior and academic performance from grade kindergarten through fifth. It will adopt an expo-facto type using a descriptive survey design type. Data will be analyzed using frequencies and percentages.

The purpose of the study (a correlational study) is to determine if a relationship exists between teachers’ attitudes and students’ academic performance and behavior. The hypotheses which are specific to this study include the following:

  1. A positive relationship exists between teacher attitudes and students’ academic performance from grade kindergarten through fifth.
  2. A positive relationship exists between teacher attitudes and students’ behavior in grades kindergarten through fifth.


Two research instruments will be used. These include a scale of students’ attitudes and behavior towards learning and questionnaires for teachers in the same academic environment. The questionnaire will be administered to teachers and older students while younger ones will be interviewed.

The scale of students’ attitudes and behavior towards learning will be adapted from Fennema-Sherman Mathematics Attitude Scales. This scale has two sections; the first section includes the name of the student, class, the name of the school, the local government area, sex, and age. The second section has 22 items with eleven positively worded and eleven negatively worded items to which students will be expected to respond to an expression of the level of agreement (or otherwise). This will be on a four-point scale of

  • Strongly Agree (4),
  • Agree (3),
  • Disagree (2),
  • strongly disagree (1).

The adapted instruments will be trial tested in three different schools of the urban setting in a chosen region of the United States (Pransky and Bailey, 2009).

The Crobach alpha coefficient will be computed to ascertain its reliability and the value obtained will be recorded. The teacher’s questionnaire will be developed through the adoption of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study Questionnaire. This questionnaire; has the first question with ten questions each having the school’s name, age, gender, qualification, experience in years, number of students in the teacher’s classes, number of teaching periods, hours on activities outside formal school days (Pransky and Bailey, 2009). The hours have options of none; less than an hour; one to two hours; three to four hours and more than 4 hours.

The second section has 14 items that deal with teachers’ attitudes towards teaching and has response options of

  • Strongly Agree (4),
  • Agree (3),
  • Disagree (2),
  • Strongly Disagree (1).

This questionnaire will be trial tested in a similar environment where the scale of student attitude and behavior will be pre-tested. The Cronbach alpha will then be used to determine the reliability coefficient and its value noted (Pransky and Bailey, 2009).

Data Collection

The study will be conducted during spring 2013. However, before interviews are conducted, consent will be sought from the school boards of two school districts. If the school boards grant permission to conduct this study on its branches, letters will be sent to the various heads of the branches. These letters will be traced with phone calls. The number of Branch heads who give consent for their institutions to participate will be ascertained. However, only the schools which will have confirmed to have received letters and consented to participate will be included in the final sample (Forlenza, Bailey and Shaw, 1999; Pransky and Bailey, 2009).

The collection of grades will be facilitated by using mail and fax. At the end of the school year in 2013, the teacher will be mailed with forms (having student name and a chart) requesting the student’s grade. Grades will be collected for every nine weeks in the 2013 school year and an average calculated to get the mean scores. Coding will be done to determine whether the students were above average, one average, or below average (Irvine 2003; Pransky and Bailey, 2009).

To determine whether the chosen sample from two school districts adequately represents the population of the catchment area, a rough estimate of the socio-economic and demographic features of the participating schools will be carried out. For younger students (e.g. those in Kindergarten), parental consent will be sought. Hence parental consent forms will be delivered to the participating schools. Upon completion, these forms will be picked up by a designated member of the study team. The availability of funds (for this study) will determine the amount of cash that families will be awarded as compensation for participation.

Interviews will only be limited to the students whose parents gave consent for their participation in the study. In case some of the children to be interviewed don’t report (e.g. move out of this area, are transferred to a non-participant school, or don’t meet sampling criteria), they will not be followed up and will not be interviewed (Forlenza, Bailey and Shaw, 1999; Pransky and Bailey, 2009).

Data Analysis

A separate analysis of data will be performed for academic performance and behavior because of the following two basic reasons:

  1. Analyses that have been done in the past have indicated statistically significant differences (Irvine, 2003: Pransky and Bailey, 2009).
  2. A difference in nominal value exists in statistical analyses (Swartz 2003; Irvine, 2003).


Baker, G., and Crist, R. (1981). The Pygmalion. American Educational Research Journal, 29 (4), 777- 907.

Forlenza, P., Bailey J., and Shaw, C. (1999). Teachers’ attitudes and the schooling process in first grade. American Educational Research Journal, 23, 587- 613.

Gay, G. (2000). Culturally responsive teaching: Theory, research, and practice. New York: Teachers College Press.

Howard, T., and Del Rosario, C. (2000), Talking race in teacher education: The need for racial dialogue in teacher education. Action in Teacher Education, 21, 127-137.

Pransky, J., and Bailey, C. (2009). Teaching in a culturally responsive way. European Journal of Social Sciences, 11 (3), 90-108.

Swartz, E. (2003). Teaching White pre-service teachers: Pedagogy for change. Urban Education, 38, 255-278.

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ChalkyPapers. "Influence of Teachers’ Attitudes on Student Behavior and Achievement." July 23, 2022.