Date of Award:

2016

Document Type:

Dissertation

Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department:

Education

Advisor/Chair:

Sherry Marx

Abstract

In this qualitative study, the author explored the perceptions of 10 middle-class, teachers regarding the socioeconomic class of both impoverished and advantaged students with whom they worked. Teachers in two public elementary schools from one Intermountain West school district participated; one school generally served children living in poverty and the other generally served affluent children. Through analysis of surveys, interviews, teacher journals, and researcher journal, the complex and often times contradictory feelings these teachers have about the socioeconomic class of students were revealed.

Literature in class, socioeconomic class, deficit thinking, race and whiteness, and identity and multiple identities, situated the study. The author, who grew up in poverty herself, weaved in her own complex and often time contradictory memories and feelings about poverty throughout the manuscript. The work revealed that teacher’s positionality led them to a belief of “normal.” All teachers expressed the belief that parents were instrumental in determining their child’s academic success. Teachers had also not recognized that their perceptions contributed to student learning. Perceptions were based on teacher’s upbringing, belief system, gender, race, and class. Students at high socioeconomic schools were perceived to be leaders, well-dressed, supported by families, and in constant need of enrichment. In contrast, students at low socioeconomic schools were perceived to need discipline and structure, opportunities to gather background knowledge, and support from parents.

Teacher’s felt student behavior was connected to their backgrounds, role models, race, class, and gender. Rarely did teachers feel students could attribute success or failure to their own actions. The final overarching theme was referred to as “SES-blind” in which teachers stated they did not notice the socioeconomic status (SES) of the students, or they felt all of their students were the same. The author noted there was much overlap between the literature on White teacher perceptions of children of color and teacher perceptions of children living in poverty.

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