Student attribution of teacher affect in contexts of behavioral and academic failure

Glen Michael Chernack, Fordham University


Children within educational settings face a multitude of messages from contexts, authority figures, peers, and from their successes and failures. This research was conducted to explore how children make sense of teacher emotions in situations of failure. Evaluating student perceptions of teacher affect has important implications on ways to motivate children to improve academic and behavioral outcomes and develop a positive self-concept. This study utilized MANOVA analyses to evaluate the interactions between teacher affect (anger and sympathy), student attributions of teacher emotion (effort and ability), and context of failure (achievement and behavior) for participant age (8-11) and gender. Participants recruited from private and public, elementary and middle schools in urban communities of Brooklyn, New York, rated student attributions of teacher affect based on scripts of hypothetical situations between a student and teacher, and completed a self-report measure. Results indicated that participants made predictable attributions of lack of effort with teacher anger and lack of ability was associated with sympathetic teacher reactions. The gender and age of the participant did not significantly influence the affect-attribution links. However, for sympathy-ability associations, context was found to have a main effect and the interaction between context and age was also statistically significant. Specifically, sympathy-ability for an achievement failure clearly exceeded mean ratings for a behavioral failure. The difference between contexts for sympathy-ability associations was also found for younger students, but older students indicated negligible differences between contexts. These findings validate and provide a point of departure for developmental differences seen with affect-attribution associations posited by Weiner and colleagues. Children derive predictable messages from teacher sympathetic affect based on the type of failure experienced, which changes over time. Within a small window of three years, a perceptual rigidity locks ability in as the determining factor to success across behavioral and achievement settings. Teachers, by decreasing sympathetic messages and increasing opportunities to succeed in multiple contexts, can act to circumvent student feelings and behaviors that connote helplessness and low self-worth.

Subject Area

Educational psychology|Developmental psychology

Recommended Citation

Chernack, Glen Michael, "Student attribution of teacher affect in contexts of behavioral and academic failure" (2011). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3517892.