Shaping classrooms, placing students : contextual and intersectional factors in the discipline gap




Massey, Kristine Julia

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This multiple case study examined classroom discipline in the context of teachers’ understandings of power, their interactions and relationships with students, and their decision-making about curriculum and pedagogy. This work was grounded within the literature on the discipline gap—or the disproportionate rate at which students of color are punished more frequently and more severely than their White peers. While there is a wealth of quantitative literature discussing the discipline gap, such investigations are limited to an analysis of the disciplinary actions that are assigned to student behaviors after they have already occurred. As such, there are relatively few qualitative investigations that examine the precursors to the very disciplinary actions that quantitative studies are dependent upon. Guided by theoretical examinations of power, intersectionality, and Culturally Relevant Pedagogy, this study sought to investigate the discipline gap through the following questions: 1) How do teachers at an urban public high school who work effectively with students of color understand and employ the concept of power in their classroom interactions with students?; and 2) What interpersonal and pedagogical decisions do these teachers make in the context of classroom discipline? This study included classroom observations, artifact analyses, and semi-structured interviews with teachers and students at two diverse, urban public high schools. While the school-sites and classrooms were distinct from each other in several ways, findings showed that teachers’ approaches to discipline, curriculum, and pedagogy, as well as their interactions with students, were dependent upon their conceptualizations of the sociocultural factors of race, culture, socioeconomic status, gender, and language. Furthermore, their understandings of—and resulting practices regarding—the aforementioned sociocultural factors were dependent upon teachers’ own explicit and implicit cultural values and norms. This research contributes to the literature on the discipline gap by offering insight to potential contextual factors that impact student-teacher relationships and disciplinary structures within classrooms.


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