Exploring teachers’ perceptions of positive and negative attitudes toward teachers and the teaching profession
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According to the OECD (2014), only one-third of U.S. teachers reported that teaching was “valued” or “highly valued” by U.S. society. Still others have argued that teachers’ perceptions of negative attitudes may be exaggerated (Hargreaves et al., 2007). However, given widespread teacher turnover, along with decreasing enrollments in teacher preparation programs, examining teachers’ perceptions of attitudes toward their occupation likely would provide useful insight into these and related problems facing American schools. Guiding questions for this study addressed teachers’ perceptions of attitudes, contexts in which attitudes were perceived, teachers’ interpretations or responses to perceived attitudes, and differences in perceived attitudes between bioecological (Bronfenbrenner, 1999) and sociocultural contexts. Qualitative methodologies that drew on principles and procedures from grounded theory (Glaser & Strauss, 1967) were used. In all, 18 public school teachers (nine who taught in Massachusetts and nine who taught in Texas) were interviewed about attitudes they perceived in their interactions with various groups of individuals (e.g., friends, students, administrators), and attitudes embedded in more distal contexts (e.g., media, policy, culture). Based on analyses of these interviews, I found that teachers reported perceiving four types of positive (i.e., appreciative, respectful, trusting/supportive, occupational) and negative (i.e., adversarial, demeaning, unprofessional, stereotypes) attitudes toward teaching. These attitudes were perceived in interactions across eight bioecological contexts that ranged from the interpersonal (e.g., adversarial attitudes in interactions with students’ parents; positive occupational attitudes in interactions with friends and family) to the societal (e.g., stereotypes of teachers in the media, demeaning attitudes imbedded in U.S. culture). I also found that teachers perceived different attitudes despite having similar experiences. For example, a number of teachers described experiences in which non-teachers expressed that they “could never be a teacher.” A number of participants interpreted such statements as respectful, yet others perceived them as demeaning or expressed ambivalence about the attitudes perceived in such statements. Finally, I identified bioecological and sociocultural differences between teachers that appeared to correspond with variation in perceptions of attitudes toward teaching. These findings have implications for improving school climate and for supporting preservice teachers, as they reflect on their expectations of themselves as future teachers.