This study seeks to qualitatively examine the intersection between teachers' practical reasoning and beliefs, adolescent developmental needs, and positive teacher-student relationships. Positive comments about middle school teachers were gathered anonymously from middle school students (grades 6-8; ages 11-14) and coded according to four developmental domains: physical, social, emotional, and physical. Chi square analysis was used to determine statistical significance of which domains students alluded to most often when describing their teachers. The six middle school teachers who were mentioned most frequently in the student comments participated in semi-structured, open-ended interviews in which they were asked about the developmental needs of their students and responded to positive comments that students had made about them. Cross-case analysis was used to compare teacher attitudes and beliefs about teacher-student relationships and adolescent developmental needs, as well as to reveal practices teachers enacted in response to perceived needs. Findings suggest that teachers interpret a majority of student actions as indicative of underlying emotional needs, and that they use emotions as an entry point through which they can attend to the needs of students not just emotionally, but socially and cognitively as well. Teachers revealed in what ways they integrate developmentally appropriate classroom practices into their teaching based on their assumptions of need, including providing students a safe environment and using different types of humor in the classroom. Teacher perspectives on the characteristics of the ideal teacher surfaced, as well as how teachers tend to position themselves against students within the teacher-student relationship. Suggestions for teacher preparation programs as well as practicing teachers to place a greater focus on intentional developmentally appropriate teaching practices are given.



College and Department

David O. McKay School of Education; Teacher Education



Date Submitted


Document Type





teacher-student relationships, adolescent development, teacher beliefs, emotion, social needs



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Education Commons