Teacher empathy and middle school students' perception of care
TABLE OF CONTENTS Page ABSTRACT iii ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS iv DEDICATION v TABLE OF CONTENTS vi LIST OF TABLES xi CHAPTER I. INTRODUCTION 1 Background of the Problem 1 Statement of the Problem 4 Purpose of the Study 6 Research Questions 6 Significance of the Research 6 Assumptions 7 Limitations/Delimitations 8 Definitions 9 Organization 9 II. LITERATURE REVIEW 11 Care Theory 12 vi
Care and Learning 14 Empathy 17 Empathy versus Sympathy 20 Relationship between Care and Empathy 21 Middle Level Education 22 Middle School and Care 24 Teacher Education and Dispositions 25 Other Factors Impacting Care in the Classroom 30 Summary 31 III. METHODOLOGY 32 Research Questions 33 Research design 33 The Instruments 35 Sample 36 Data Collection 37 Role of the Researcher 41 Quantitative Data Analysis 43 Qualitative Data Analysis 46 Provisions for Trustworthiness 47 Summary 48 IV. FINDINGS 49 Research Questions 50 Quantitative Findings 51 vii
Research Question One 51 Demographics 51 Regression Analysis 53 Qualitative Findings 57 Demographics 57 Research Question Two 59 Experience as a Parent 60 Personality 61 Personal Experience 61 Mentor Teachers 62 Realization of students' experiences and issues 63 Other Factors 64 Research Question Three 65 Know and Show Interest in Students 68 Encourage and Instill Confidence 68 Physical Affection 69 Flexible and Adaptable 70 Share yourself and Build Community 71 Interviews and Observations 73 Summary 73 viii
V. SUMMARY, CONCLUSIONS, IMPLICATIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS 75 Summary of the Study 75 The Problem 76 Purpose of the Study 78 Research Questions 78 Methodology 78 Discussion of Findings 79 Conclusions 81 Research Question One 82 Research Question Two 84 Research Question Three 87 Implications 89 Recommendations for Further Study 93 Concluding Remarks 95 REFERENCES 97 APPENDIX A 109 APPENDIX B 112 APPENDIX C : 114 APPENDIX D 116 APPENDIX E 118 APPENDIX F 121 APPENDIX G 124 IX
APPENDIX H 127 APPENDIX 1 129 APPENDIX J 131 APPENDIX K 133 VITA 135 x
LIST OF TABLES Table Page 1 Descriptive Statistics of TLES Data 52 2 Regression Analysis Coefficients 55 3 Pearson's Correlation Matrix 56 4 Multicollinearity Diagnostics 56 5 Interview Participants 58 6 Themes Emerging Concerning the Development of Care and Empathy 60 7 Actions Identified by Teachers That Promote a Perception of Care 66 8 Caring Actions Observed in the Classroom 67 XI
CHAPTER I Introduction Background of the Problem The Carnegie Foundation Project (1996), What Matters Most: Teaching for America's Future, stated a goal, "by the year 2006, America will provide all students in the country with what should be their educational birthright: access to competent, caring, and qualified teachers" (p. 5). In 2002, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) was signed into law. Its implementation mandated that school leaders provide highly qualified teachers in all core academic areas (NCLB, 2002). The definition of highly qualified according to NCLB includes a) holding a minimum of a bachelor's degree, b) obtaining full state certification, and c) demonstrating competence in the subject area in which they teach by passing a state certification exam (NCLB, 2002). The motives behind NCLB are well intended, but a degree, a certificate, and a passing test score are not all there is to being a competent, caring, and qualified teacher. School leaders struggle to hire and retain teachers who meet the qualifications of NCLB and who are also able to build relationships with students. Teacher preparation programs are also challenged by NCLB (2002) and National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NC ATE) to train teachers in content, 1
2 pedagogy, and dispositions (NCATE, 2002). A disposition refers to the tendency or propensity of teacher candidates to respond in specific ways to particular circumstances (Eberly, Rand, & O'Conner, 2007). NCATE defines dispositions as: the values, commitments, and professional ethics that influence behaviors toward students, families, colleagues, and communities and affect student learning, motivation, and development as well as the educator's own professional growth. Dispositions are guided by beliefs and attitudes related to values such as caring, fairness, honesty, responsibility, and social justice, (p. 52) Eberly, Rand, and O'Conner (2007) suggest three components of dispositional behavior: sensitivity, inclination, and ability. The sensing or sensitivity piece presents a particular challenge to teacher preparation programs. This is so because sensitivity may be directly related to a teacher's level of empathy. Empathy refers to the ability to take the perspective or "feel with" another person (Eisenberg & Strayer, 1987). This study addresses the potential impact that empathy has upon a students' perception that they are cared for. The importance of teacher empathy and students' perception that they are cared for cannot be overstated (Bostic, 2006; Hallinan, 2008; Kohn, 2005, Noddings, 2005b). Goodlad (1994) states, "The teacher is the central figure in determining the tone of the classroom" (p.123). An important factor in setting the tone is demonstrating care for the students. Breaking Ranks, a report by the National Association of Secondary Principals in 1996, stated a goal that "Teachers will convey a sense of caring so students will feel teachers share a stake in their learning" (p. 21). This statement corroborates what a number of authors (Kaplan & Owings, 2000; Kohn, 2005; Noddings, 1984, 2005b)
3 have written about the importance of care in relation to children and their success in school. This emphasis on care is even more important at the middle school level. Researchers recognize the importance of meeting the unique needs of early adolescents (Carnegie, 1989; Jackson & Davis, 2000; NMSA, 2003/2009). Further, the Carnegie Council of Adolescent Development's report (1989), Turning Points, confirms these findings and refers to the: crucial need to help adolescents, age 10-15 years, acquire durable self-esteem, flexible and inquiring habits of mind, reliable and relatively close relationships, a sense of belonging in a valued group, and a sense of usefulness in some way beyond the self. (p. 12) The importance of care and relationships is common throughout the literature regarding middle level education (Brown, 2004; Erb, 2006; Galassi, Gulledge, & Cox, 1997; Knowles & Brown, 2000). Brown (2004) surveyed middle school principals and concluded that a safe and caring environment begins with embracement of the middle school concept. Erb (2006) also discussed the importance of care and support for the individual student as part of the middle level concept. Erb (2006), Galassi, et. al. (1997), and Knowles and Brown (2000) acknowledged the importance of relationships and the role advisories, small groups of students assigned to a mentor teacher, play in building relationships between teachers and students. Finally, This We Believe (NMSA, 1982; 2003; 2009) was published as a position statement concerning the characteristics of developmentally responsive middle level schools. One of the key positions involves in
4 identifying an adult advisor who knows and cares for the individual adolescent and supports them academically and personally. Children must believe they are cared for and learn to care for others before they can achieve academic success (Noddings, 1995a). This ethic of care stands out as an important disposition necessary for teachers. "When teachers genuinely care, students sense it and respond by optimizing their commitment to learning and putting forth greater efforts to reach their potential" (Lumpkin, 2007, p. 160). Noddings (1984) suggests that care involves receiving the perspective of others, responding appropriately, and remaining committed to the cared for. The disposition of empathy, understanding others' perspectives, is a crucial aspect of caring. The development of empathy and care continues to be a challenge for teacher educators and those who work with teachers in the field (Bostic, 2006; Eberly, Rand, & O'Conner, 2007; Graham, 2006; Noddings 2005b). Kohn (1990) referred to caring as "... stepping out of one's own personal frame of reference and into the other's" ( p.. 113). This description of care is consistent with that of Noddings (1984). Similarly, Beck (1994) emphasized the importance of empathy in the caring relationship and in responding to the needs of others. Empathy bonds individuals to one another and enhances care. Statement of the Problem School leaders have faced many challenges during this time of increased accountability in respect to finance, safety, curriculum, teacher recruitment, and staff development (Carnegie, 1989; Freeman, 2007; Helm, 2007; Noddings 2005c; Sernak, 1998). The focus on high-stakes testing and achievement can leave students with a
5 feeling that adults do not care about them (Noddings, 1992). Middle schools, in particular, are faced with meeting the unique needs of adolescents who are often alienated from school due to classroom and school practices that do not meet the needs of the early adolescent student (Carnegie, 1989). One of the primary needs of young adolescents is to have connection with an adult who knows and cares for them and who provides academic and emotional support (NMSA, 2009). Researchers have determined that students must feel cared for before they can be academically successful. Noddings (1984), Makeroff (1971), and others (Beck, 1994; Kaplan & Owings, 2000; Kohn, 2005) have written about the importance of caring for students in school. Several studies have examined teacher empathy (Bostic, 2006; Redman, 1977; Tettegah & Anderson, 2007), but few have looked at the relationship of teacher empathy levels and the student perception of care in the classroom. Bostic (2006) studied the relationship between teacher empathy and standardized test scores of secondary students and found little relationship between the two. Redman (1977), on the other hand, focused on human relations training for teachers to increase empathy levels that was found to be effective. In contrast, Tettegah and Anderson (2007) examined the empathetic dispositions of preservice teachers and found the participants expressed little empathy when given simulations. Much more research is needed to learn about how caring is developed in teachers and what events actually happen in classrooms where teachers with high levels of empathy make students perceive they are cared for. Importantly, there have not been any studies specifically dealing with teacher empathy as a factor in the caring process. (Bostic, 2006; Redman, 1977; Tettegah & Anderson, 2007). A number of studies
6 concerning empathy are found in the medical and social work professions, but not in education (Crigger, 2001; Davis, 1983; Donius, 1994; Lamonica, 1981; Mete, 2007). Purpose of the Study The purpose of this explanatory mixed method research was to determine what relationship, if any, exists between the level of teacher empathy and students' perception of the care that they received in the classroom. The researcher also examined factors that contribute to high levels of teacher empathy that facilitate a caring classroom environment. Finally, the researcher identified specific classroom actions demonstrated by teachers with high levels of teacher empathy and strong student perceptions of teacher care. Research Questions The questions guiding this research study were: 1. What relationship, if any, exists between the level of teacher empathy and their students' perceived level of care they received in the classroom? 2. What factors do teachers perceive as contributing to the development of empathy that also facilitate a caring classroom environment? 3. What specific actions occur in the classrooms of teachers with high levels of teacher empathy and strong student perception of teacher care? Significance of the research This research is important because it connects the empathy literature to the ethic of care literature providing insight into what role empathy might play in making students feel cared for. It is also significant in its timing. Universities are currently challenged
7 with assessing and teaching teacher dispositions. The research has practical applications for teacher preparation programs, particularly those specializing in the preparation of middle school teachers, as they develop plans to foster positive teacher dispositions. Empathy scales and training in empathetic caring are prevalent in other fields, but not as prevalent in education. For example, Crigger (2001) examined the empathy of nursing students and connected it to Noddings' theories. Likewise, Donius (1994) developed an instrument to measure caring as a three-dimensional construct, one of which was empathy. In addition Hojat, Mangione, Nasca, Gonnella, and Magee (2005) examined the self-reported empathy levels of medical students in comparison to the ratings given by their instructors. By better understanding the relationship of teachers' level of empathy and their students' perceived care, teachers will be in a better position to address the needs of students and to develop future teachers. Further, by interviewing teachers scoring highly in empathy and whose students perceive them as caring, important information concerning the development of teacher empathy and the facilitation of a caring classroom environment was gained. Finally, classroom observations gave insight in what actually happens in a classroom where the teacher was empathetic and the students perceive they were cared for. Assumptions The researcher made the assumption that the surveys used indeed measure empathy and care. This is always a potential problem with survey instruments. A second assumption was that teachers and students involved in the study were open and honest about their feelings and actions concerning care and empathy in the classroom. It was
8 also assumed that there would be teachers who exhibited high levels of empathy and whose students also perceived they were cared for in the classroom. Limitations/Delimitations This study involved a self-reported empathy scale for teachers to assess the level of empathy. A self-report scale requires that the individuals completing the scale know themselves and their own emotions, and that they can communicate them on a survey instrument. Another possible limitation was the use of student surveys. There is often a concern that students will not take a survey seriously, therefore, causing the data to be less valid. Care was taken to communicate to the students the serious nature of the study and to encourage them to seriously reflect and answer each question honestly. Response rate was also a concern. The surveys were distributed to all middle school teachers in the district at their August meetings. The student surveys were completed by only the students of the teachers who agreed to participate. This could have lowered the participation rate and introduced sampling bias. Another possible limitation is that some students completed the survey for several of their teachers in different classes. This repetition could impact the quality of those students' responses. The final limitation of the research was that teachers were given the survey during their August inservice which is a busy time, and this could impact their attitude and cooperation with the study. Without doubt, this research is delimited by site selection. The study was conducted in one East Texas middle school with 1736 students. This school was chosen for the study due to its size, diversity, and its commitment to creating a caring middle
9 school. The study focused on one school due to the in-depth focus needed for the qualitative portion of the study. Definitions Ethic of care. An ethic of care is the acknowledgement, attentiveness and commitment to the cared for person resulting in a connectedness or relationship between the care giver and the cared for (Noddings, 1984). Empathy. Empathy is a "feeling with" another or taking on the perspective of the other person (Eisenberg & Strayer, 1987). Sympathy. Sympathy is a "feeling for" or feeling sorry for another person (Eisenberg & Strayer, 1987). Disposition. Disposition refers to the tendency or propensity of students to respond in specific ways to particular circumstances such as a propensity to inquire in a caring manner if a student appears upset (Eberly, et al., 2007). Highly qualified teacher. A teacher is considered to be highly qualified if he/she holds a minimum of a bachelor's degree, b) has obtained full state certification, and c) has demonstrated competence in the subject area in which they teach by passing a state certification exam (NCLB, 2002). Middle Level Education or Middle School Concept. Middle level education refers to an effective middle school program designed around the unique developmental needs of early adolescents (11-14 year olds) (Mitchell, 2007).
10 Organization A review of the literature describing care theory and its relationship to learning is presented in Chapter II. Empathy and its relationship to care in the context of middle level education and teacher preparation in the area of dispositions is also examined. The content of Chapter III includes proposed methodology for the study, data collection, data analysis and how the results will be reported. Chapter IV describes the findings of the study and is followed by the summary, conclusion, and recommendations for further study in Chapter V.
CHAPTER II Literature Review The purpose of this explanatory mixed method research was to determine what relationship, if any, exists between the level of teacher empathy and students' perception of the care that they received in the classroom. The researcher also examined factors that contribute to high levels of empathy that facilitate a caring classroom environment and identified specific classroom actions of teachers with high levels of empathy and strong student perceptions of teacher care. This literature review describes care theory and its relationship to learning. It further examines the research on empathy and its relationship to care in the context of middle level education and teacher preparation. The chapter concludes with a review of other factors that influence perceived care in the classroom such as race, gender, age, teaching experience and parental status. The current emphasis on test scores and accountability has created a high-stakes situation that often overlooks relationships as a critical component to improve academic achievement. Noddings (1995b) stated: Many otherwise reasonable people seem to believe that our educational problems consist largely of low scores on achievement tests. My contention is, first, that we should want more from our educational efforts than adequate academic achievement and, second, that we will not achieve even that meager 11
12 success unless our children believe that themselves are cared for and learn to care for others, (pp. 675-676) Likewise, Sergiovanni (1994) equated caring with relationships and acknowledged that caring is at the heart of teaching and its action enhances the purpose of the school. He argued that care must be demonstrated in ways that lead to student learning. The following sections includes a review of the literature related to an ethic of care and student learning followed by a review of research related to empathy and its relationship to care. The final two sections of the chapter examine the importance of care and empathy in middle level education, its implications for teacher education in the area of dispositions, and other possible factors that may be related to teacher care and the creation of a caring classroom. Care Theory Care theory has its roots in feminism and pragmatic naturalism (Gilligan, 1982; Noddings, 2002). Noddings (1984, 1992) described care theory as a type of moral reasoning and compares it to a web or circle of relationships that leads to connections between and among individuals and also builds community. Care is also reciprocal and needs-based requiring the cared for to give a response for the caring to be complete (Noddings, 1984; Sernak, 1998). Similarly, Beck (1994) referred to care as more than merely providing services to those in need and suggested care requires empathizing with others, responding to their needs, and a making a commitment to care. Mayeroff (1971) referred to caring as the center of all values and stated that through caring life finds order realized through relationships and actions. Likewise, Noddings (2002) spoke of care as an
13 obligation one must express. Caring is other-directed and purposeful (Noddings, 1984). Gilligan (1982) referred to care as a distinctive, empathetic response to identified needs. This care requires acknowledgement, attentiveness, and responsiveness of the cared for and can be learned or taught through practice and opportunity (Noddings, 1984). Similarly, Mayeroff (1971) indicated that in caring relationships each party will have certain emotional responses due to the other's actions. Even though teachers say they care for their students, students often state they do not perceive that care (Noddings, 2005a). Noddings (1992) identified this as an important aspect of caring relationships. Mayeroff (1971) illustrated this from the perspective of the person receiving care. When the other is with me, I feel I am not alone. I feel understood not in some detached way but because I feel he knows what it is like to be me. I realize that he wants to see me as I am, not in order to pass judgment on me, but to help me. I do not have to conceal myself by trying to appear better than I am, instead I can open myself up for him, let him get close to me. (p. 31) Mayeroff (1971) then mentioned the delight or joy of the one who gives care at the growth or development of the cared for person. Educators must interact with students in a way that students perceive the care in order for them to develop into caring adults (Noddings, 2005a). This connection completes the caring relationship between students and teachers. Noddings (1992) concluded that a caring relationship does not exist if the students do not perceive the teacher's actions as caring. Graham (2006) suggested lack of
14 perceived care and relationships results in lower achievement and contributes to the achievement gap. Sernak (1998) described this caring relationship and defines care as: the moral treatment of others, a belief in the importance of relationships between individuals and groups within the whole and caring for the collective (school as a whole), each one considered as guiding the work of educators and of particular significance to power structures, (p. 11) This definition describes care interdependence rather than dependence (Gilligan, 1982; Sernak, 1998). In other words, care must mean something to both parties to be considered caring. The cared for must perceive the act as caring in order for caring to occur (Noddings, 1984, 2005b) This ethic of care has been identified as essential for the success of students in the classroom (Kaplan & Owings, 2000; Kohn, 2005; Noddings 1995b, 2005b). The section that follows examines the connection of care and learning. Care and Learning A number of authors have written about the importance of care in relation to children and their success in school. (Kaplan & Owings, 2000; Kohn, 2005; Noddings, 1995b, 2005b; Ryan & Patrick, 2001; Splittgerber & Allen, 1996). Kaplan and Owings (2000) gave practical suggestions for developing enduring, caring relationships and increasing student competence. Likewise, Kohn (2005) recognized that students who feel that their teachers accept and care for them, are more interested in learning and more likely to be successful. Noddings (1995b, 2005b) also acknowledged that there is more to learning than scores on a test, and that students have a number of needs (including the need to feel cared for) that must be met before they can be successful academically.
15 Finally, Ryan and Patrick (2001) and Splittgerber and Allen (1996) attributed student motivation and success to teachers and classrooms that are caring and supportive. Thus, students who feel their teachers care for them are more motivated to learn and are more likely to be academically successful (Kohn, 2005; Lumpkin, 2007; Ryan & Patrick, 2001; Schmakel, 2008). Howard (2003) defined care as "explicitly showing affection and nurturing behavior toward students, which can have a positive influence upon student[s]' desire to learn" (p. 138). This care can be demonstrated by verbal expressions of high expectations, an encouraging pat on the back, and empathetic comments concerning the feelings of each student (Howard, 2003; Noddings, 2005c). Caring teachers are a significant factor in the success of students. Noddings (1995b) stated that children must believe they are cared for and learn to care for others before they can achieve academic success. A study by Ryan and Patrick (2001) supported this by showing that students who believed their teachers cared about them scored better on tests. Additionally, researchers (Kaplan & Owings, 2000; Kohn, 2005; Noddings, 2005b, 2005c) argued that the current emphasis on high-stakes testing has a negative effect on students. This emphasis on achievement may actually contribute to students feeling that adults do not care for them (Noddings, 1992). As teachers become more stressed and focused on teaching the skills for the tests, they may unknowingly lose sight of the individual student and his or her unique needs. As Noddings (1995a) stated, "There is more to life and learning than academic proficiency demonstrated by test scores" (p. 6). Similarly, Kohn (2005) suggested schools are becoming test preparation centers and stated, "It's difficult to teach the whole child when you are held accountable only for
16 raising reading and math scores" (p. 20). Watson (2003) noted that students' perception of care is not enough. Additionally, Kohn (2005) emphasized that students must feel that they are cared for unconditionally. He stated that "Caring that has to be earned is not caring at all" (p. 24). While Kohn (2005) acknowledged that we must have expectations for students, he emphasized our concern and affection cannot depend on meeting the expectations. Watson (2003) explained how a teacher can communicate to students that actions are unacceptable while reassuring them that she still cares about them: If we want our students to trust that we care for them, then we need to display our affection without demanding that they behave or perform in certain ways in return. It's not that we don't want and expect certain behaviors: we do. But our concern or affection does not depend on it. (p. 30) Today's students come to school with many needs that must be met before they can succeed academically. One such need is that students must feel safe and cared for (Kaplan & Owings, 2000). Additionally they must learn to care for others (Kaplan & Owings, 2000; Noddings, 2002). Such needs must be met before focusing on test scores (Noddings, 2005c). These needs are met through the development of a safe, caring, and supportive classroom environment (Ryan & Patrick, 2001; Splittgerber & Allen, 1996). Furthermore, Nodding (2005b) and Rothstein (2002) suggested that non-educational interventions may be more effective than directly educational ones. Kaplan and Owings (2000) stated that teaching and learning cannot occur unless students feel safe. This is consistent with Maslow's (1954) hierarchy of needs which states that lower level needs (physiological, safety, love, and belonging) must be met before higher level needs (self-
17 esteem and self- actualization). Additionally, others have advocated for schools to become full service institutions.serving the whole child (Kohn, 2005; Noddings, 2005b). The previous sections have described care theory and the relationship between care and learning. Noddings (1984) described a process of care in which the caregiver receives the perspective of another, responds appropriately, and makes a commitment. The process of taking the perspective of another requires empathy. The following section explains empathy (Davis, 1994; Kohn, 1990; Levy, 1985). Empathy According to Noddings (1984), care "involves stepping out of one's personal frame of reference into the other's point of view, his objective needs, and what he expects of us" (p. 24). This description of perspective taking describes empathy (Kohn, 1990) and is referred to indirectly in the works of Noddings (1984) and Beck (1994). Noddings (1999) referred to the following attributes of caring teachers: good people skills, sensitivity, making students feel important, understanding the world of the students, creating an environment of security, and giving students a feeling that someone cares for them. Understanding the world of students requires a disposition of empathy. Davis (1994) referred to empathy as the process of understanding the suffering of another and considers it the essential to interpersonal relationships. In earlier research, Rogers (1959) described empathy as the ability to perceive or capture the feelings or frame of reference of another without joining or losing the "as i f condition. A further description of empathy comes from Kohn (1990) who suggested empathy is best illustrated in the question, "How would I like it if someone did that to me?" (p. 112).