Teachers’ attitudes can help or hurt student motivation, achievement and well-being. Recent studies found that negative teacher attitudes can impair academic achievement and increase students' psychological disorders and physical symptoms of stress. Teachers who use humiliation or sarcasm can leave a child feeling belittled. Discipline by fear and intimidation can be harmful to the student's future success. Teachers who are harsh in their display of authority or are indifferent toward their students or lessons can leave a lingering feeling of negativity with the student.
Educational Impact in the Sciences
Michael Papadimitriou, a 20-year veteran teacher of high school science, observed in an interview with Education World that teachers' attitudes can shape high school students' interest more than teaching strategies or even the content itself. This is especially true for girls, who are often discouraged from science by society's expectations. Teachers who negatively stereotype women in the sciences can decrease girls' achievement. Cathleen Garcia's 2003 study found similar results in elementary schools, revealing that elementary teachers’ personal attitudes toward science affected student success in science activities.
Educational Impact in Literacy
An educator's attitude can affect reading comprehension and literacy as well. In 2010, the Journal of Instructional Pedagogies published a study examining teachers' resistance against taking class time to focus specifically on literacy within their subjects. The result was low rates of student reading proficiency, with only 29 percent of eighth-grade boys and 34 percent of eighth-grade girls reading at or above proficient levels. The study concluded that teacher attitude is one of the most important aspects of developing literacy in junior high and high school students.
Negative teacher attitudes can also damage students’ psychological well being. According to a 2001 study by Florin Sava, published in the International Journal for Teaching and Teacher Education, teachers’ use of humiliation, fear and intimidation can cause students to develop habit disorders, shyness, withdrawal and anxiety. According to psychology professor Irwin Hyman and clinical supervisor Pamela Snook, this can escalate into feelings of stress and alienation similar to post-traumatic stress disorder. Students who experience damaging teacher attitudes in elementary and junior high school are more likely to retain negative symptoms than high school students.
In some cases, negative teacher attitudes produce such strong feelings of anxiety that students develop physical symptoms. These can include skeletal aches or muscular cramps, lack of energy, upset stomach and neck tension. Such stress-related illnesses not only harm students’ physical well-being, they also disrupt students’ ability to focus in class. This often results in further punishment from teachers, continuing the cycle of negativity and stress.
Bethany Marroquin is a writer and credentialed English teacher from Southern California. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from Westmont College, and completed her teaching credential in 2014 through Azusa Pacific University.