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Positive student-teacher relationships are critical to supporting children’s academic and social-emotional outcomes over time (e.g., Hamre & Pianta, 2001; Wu et al., 2010). Studies also show that student and teacher ratings of their relationship independently predict student outcomes, though there may be low agreement between the two reports (e.g., Murray et al., 2008a), highlighting the potentially different information and value offered by each perspective. Positive student-teacher relationships may be especially important for high-risk students, including ethnic minority children (e.g., Murray, et al., 2008b). However, evidence suggests that students’ racial/ethnic background influences teachers’ perceptions of their relationships (e.g., Hughes et al., 2005). Previous studies have explored these differences at the student level, predicting differences associated with children’s race/ethnicity and other academic and demographic characteristics (e.g., O’Connor, 2010). Less is known about racial discrepancies in student-teacher relationships at the classroom level and what classroom practices and characteristic may contribute to their emergence over time. The present study examines classroom-level discrepancies between Black and White students in both teacher and student reports of teacher-child closeness (TCC).
Data were collected for the Classroom Peer Ecologies Project, a longitudinal cross-sectional study of first, third, and fifth grade classrooms in Midwestern and Mid-Atlantic elementary schools in the United States. The present study analyzed a subset of 143 classrooms that were selected based on their ethnic/racial composition. Black and White students each comprised at least 10% of all students in each classroom. Participating students and teachers completed questionnaires at three time points: within the first two months of the academic year, two months later, and within the last two months of the year. Teacher and student perceptions of TCC were measured using scales adapted from the Student-Teacher Relationship Scale ([STRS] Pianta, 2001; Madill, et al., 2014). Teachers rated their closeness with each student on a four-item scale adapted from the closeness and conflict subscales. Students responded to five items adapted for child report from the STRS Closeness subscale. Within each classroom, racial group discrepancies scores were calculated from the difference between average teacher-rated closeness with White and Black students, with more positive scores indicating greater TCC with White students. Parallel discrepancy scores were calculated for student-reported teacher closeness.
Longitudinal multilevel models will predict change in both teacher- and student-reported TCC across the school year from teacher and classroom characteristics. Results from preliminary models indicate that teacher ratings of Black and White students’ academic ability and prosocial behavior were differentially associated with racial discrepancies in teacher- and student-reported TCC. While teachers’ perceptions of children’s social behavior may contribute more to racial discrepancies in teachers’ sense of TCC, their perceptions of students’ academic abilities are more relevant to discrepancies in students’ feelings of teacher closeness. These results highlight the differences in students and teachers’ perceptions of their relationship, which may contribute to inequities in student experiences of support and achievement over time. Further analyses will explore moderation effects and the extent to which teacher practices influence change in racial discrepancies in teacher- and student-reported TCC over time.