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Educational Psychology

An International Journal of Experimental Educational Psychology

ISSN: 0144-3410 (Print) 1469-5820 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/cedp20

Chinese elementary school teachers’ perceptions


of students’ classroom behaviour problems

Jiliang Shen , Na Zhang , Caiyun Zhang , Paul Caldarella , Michael J.


Richardson & Ryan H. Shatzer

To cite this article: Jiliang Shen , Na Zhang , Caiyun Zhang , Paul Caldarella , Michael J.
Richardson & Ryan H. Shatzer (2009) Chinese elementary school teachers’ perceptions
of students’ classroom behaviour problems, Educational Psychology, 29:2, 187-201, DOI:
10.1080/01443410802654909

To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01443410802654909

Published online: 16 Mar 2009.

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Educational Psychology
Vol. 29, No. 2, March 2009, 187–201

Chinese elementary school teachers’ perceptions of students’


classroom behaviour problems
Jiliang Shena, Na Zhanga, Caiyun Zhangb, Paul Caldarellac*, Michael J. Richardsonc
and Ryan H. Shatzerc
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aInstitute of Developmental Psychology, Beijing Normal University, Beijing, China;


bDepartment of Psychology and Special Education, China National Institute for Educational
Research, Beijing, China; cPositive Behaviour Support Initiative, Brigham Young University,
Provo, USA
(Received 15 July 2008; final version received 30 November 2008)
Taylor and Francis Ltd
CEDP_A_365660.sgm

Educational
10.1080/01443410802654909
0144-3410
Research
Taylor
02009
29
Dr.
paul_caldarella@byu.edu
00000March
PaulCaldarella
& Article
Francis
(print)/1469-5820
Psychology
2009 (online)

This study examined teachers’ perceptions of classroom behaviour problems in


five provinces of the People’s Republic of China. Researchers surveyed 527
Chinese teachers from 27 elementary schools. Consistent with previous studies in
China, teachers perceived non-attention to be the most frequent and troublesome
behaviour problem. Teachers’ perceptions of which behaviour problems were
most difficult to tolerate and most negative in their effects on student development
were also investigated. Approximately 45% of the teachers reported spending too
much time on behaviour problems. Significant differences were found in the
prevalence of teachers’ perceptions of student misbehaviour and of the time spent
on classroom management; there were also differences in these perceptions
according to students’ gender, type of school, classroom subject taught, and
teachers’ level of experience. The implications of these findings for researchers
and practitioners are addressed.
Keywords: teacher perceptions; problem behaviour; classroom environment;
elementary schools; Chinese education

Introduction
Teacher perceptions of classroom behaviour problems have been of particular interest
to educational researchers over the past 20 years. Studies of teacher perspectives have
been conducted in many different areas of the world, including Australia, the United
States, Hong Kong, Greece, Malta, and Jordan (see Beaman, Wheldall, & Kemp,
2007, for a review). Related research has also been conducted in the United Kingdom
(e.g., Cline & Ertubey, 1997; Houghton, Wheldall, & Merrett, 1988; Wheldall &
Merrett, 1988), Sweden (Henricsson & Rydell, 2004), Cyprus (Kokkinos, Panayiotou,
& Davazoglou, 2004), Canada (LeBlanc, Swisher, Vitaro, & Tremblay, 2007), and
the People’s Republic of China (Ding, Li, Li, & Kulm, 2008). Cross-cultural studies
have been conducted between such diverse cultures as Germany and South Korea
(Langfeldt, 1992) and Turkey and the United Kingdom (Türnüklü & Galton, 2001).
Researchers have suggested that teacher perceptions of student misbehaviour are
important predictors of teacher confidence and of teachers’ responses to misbehaviour

*Corresponding author. Email: paul_caldarella@byu.edu

ISSN 0144-3410 print/ISSN 1469-5820 online


© 2009 Taylor & Francis
DOI: 10.1080/01443410802654909
http://www.informaworld.com
188 J. Shen et al.

(Arbuckle & Little, 2004; Bibou-Nakou, Kiosseoglou, & Stogiannidou, 2000;


Henricsson & Rydell; Martin, Linfoot, & Stephenson, 1999).

Perceptions of frequent and troublesome behaviours


The proportion of students exhibiting problem behaviours has been consistently
estimated as between two and nine students in a classroom of approximately 30: about
7–30% (Beaman et al., 2007). Approximately 50% of teachers report that they spend
more time dealing with misbehaviour than they believe they should (Beaman et al.),
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although Ding et al. (2008) found this true of only 34% of the teachers in their study
in the People’s Republic of China. Ding and colleagues explained this lower percent-
age as possibly resulting from the Confucian heritage in China, which emphasises
social order.
Much of the research into teacher perceptions has focused on which behaviours are
perceived to be the most frequent and troublesome (Ding et al., 2008; Haroun &
O’Hanlon, 1997; Houghton et al., 1988; Infantino & Little, 2005; Little, 2005;
Türnüklü & Galton, 2001; Wheldall & Merrett, 1988). The most frequent and trouble-
some behaviours identified in these studies tend to coincide and be irritating but not
severe. For example, the most typically reported is some variation of talking out of
turn (Beaman et al., 2007). Although not serious, this behaviour may be frequent
enough to have a negative day-to-day impact on teacher confidence, stress, and
responses to other types of student misbehaviour.
Although talking out of turn is reported as the most frequent and troublesome behav-
iour by teachers in the West, Ding et al. (2008) found daydreaming to be perceived as
the most frequent and troublesome behaviour by teachers in Chinese schools, while
talking out of turn was the second most frequent and third most troublesome. Ding et
al. proposed three possible explanations for these findings. First, Chinese students may
be shyer than Western students and more concerned about ‘losing face’. Second, Chinese
class sizes are larger, and students may more easily become disengaged (and daydream).
Third, Chinese teachers may be more concerned about having students be mentally
engaged in classroom learning, and thus be more willing to tolerate (and perhaps even
encourage) talking out of turn in the classroom as a way to improve students’ mental
engagement. These results suggest that some variation can be expected across cultures.

Factors contributing to teacher perceptions


In seeking to understand teacher perceptions of student misbehaviour, it is important
to explore factors that might contribute to these perceptions. Several factors have been
explored, such as levels of teacher experience, grade level, student gender, geographic
area (urban/rural), school quality, and classroom setting (e.g., subject taught). Each of
these factors will be briefly considered.
Borg (1998) found that more experienced teachers tend to view problematic
behaviours as less serious than do teachers with less experience. Similarly, Arbuckle
and Little (2004) found that more experienced teachers reported using fewer support
strategies (e.g., staff meetings, in-service trainings, books or journal articles) when
dealing with problematic student behaviours. Kokkinos et al. (2004) found that
novice student teachers reported being more concerned about externalising student
behaviours than were more experienced student teachers, whereas experienced
student teachers reported being more concerned about internalising behaviours.
Educational Psychology 189

Troublesome student behaviours have been reported as increasing with student


grade level, especially in secondary-level students (Arbuckle & Little, 2004; Beaman
et al., 2007). In a study of secondary teacher perceptions, Houghton et al. (1988) found
that fewer students were reported as talking out of turn or as hindering others as grade
level increased from early to late secondary years, but more students were reported as
exhibiting ‘idleness/slowness’. Similarly, Ding et al. (2008) found that talking out of
turn was considered less of a problem among high school students than middle or
elementary school students, while daydreaming remained the top problem across
grade levels.
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Boys have been reported as exhibiting problem behaviours more frequently than
girls (Arbuckle & Little, 2004; Houghton et al., 1988; Türnüklü & Galton, 2001;
Wheldall & Merrett, 1988). Also, some behaviours are usually considered more seri-
ous in boys while others are seen as more serious in girls (Borg, 1998; Borg & Falzon,
1993; Kokkinos et al., 2004). When students’ perspectives were examined, female
students rated frequent and troublesome behaviours as more problematic than did their
male peers (Infantino & Little, 2005), which may help explain why teachers also tend
to perceive gender differences.
Martin, Walford-Kraemer, and Light (1984) examined the perceptions of teachers
in urban and in rural schools, and found that the most serious behaviours were typi-
cally consistent across these settings. However, the use of alcohol and other drugs was
considered the second most serious problem in urban schools, but was ranked as
fourth most serious by rural school teachers. Disruptive and aggressive behaviour was
reported more frequently by rural schoolteachers. A more recent study (Leblanc et al.,
2007) found that although most variance in teacher reports of behaviour problems can
be accounted for by individual differences between teachers within a given school,
teachers at urban high schools reported significantly more behaviour problems than
teachers at rural schools.
Other aspects of schools have been found to be related to teachers’ perceptions of
student behaviour problems.
Leblanc et al. (2007) found that teachers at private schools reported fewer behav-
iour problems than teachers at public schools. Teachers who reported that their school
had a strong academic emphasis also reported fewer behaviour problems than teachers
who reported that their school had less academic emphasis. Borg (1998) found that
specific behaviours were rated as more serious by teachers at non-grammar schools
and less serious by teachers at grammar schools (which are more selective) in Malta.
This finding may indicate that part of the difference in reported behaviours could be
due to perceptions of seriousness rather than to frequency alone.
Researchers have also found that teacher perceptions tend to be influenced by
classroom setting. For example, Houghton et al. (1988) found that modern language
teachers reported the highest numbers of students exhibiting problem behaviours,
whereas craft design technology and remedial course teachers reported fewer students
with problem behaviours. Factors such as seating arrangement, subject matter, and
individual versus group work have also been found to affect teacher perceptions of
student misbehaviour (Türnüklü & Galton, 2001).

Studies of cross-cultural perspectives


The broader contexts of nationality and culture present interesting opportunities
to examine the extent to which teacher perceptions are influenced by culture.
190 J. Shen et al.

Langfeldt (1992) reported both differences and similarities between German and
South Korean junior high school teachers’ perspectives. While both groups of
teachers rated ‘dissocial-aggressive’ behaviours as more problematic than with-
drawal behaviours, the German teachers rated these behaviours as more problematic
on average than did the South Korean teachers. In contrast, non-conformist behav-
iours (e.g., dressing extravagantly, cheating on exams, smoking, and sexual activity)
were rated as more problematic by South Korean teachers and less problematic by
German teachers.
A comparison of Turkish and English primary school teacher perceptions
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(Türnüklü & Galton, 2001) found that both groups defined misbehaviour as that
which disrupts the teaching/learning process, and both implicated family back-
ground as a primary cause of student misbehaviour. In both settings, ‘noisy or illicit
talking’ was ranked as the most frequent misbehaviour, followed by ‘inappropriate
movement’. A difference was found in the third most frequent problem behaviour,
with ‘inappropriate use of materials’ listed third by teachers in English classrooms
and ‘interrupting another pupil’ listed third by teachers in Turkish classrooms;
however, on the whole these groups of teachers responded in remarkably similar
ways.
Ding et al. (2008) have suggested that research into teacher perceptions of behav-
iour problems is relatively new in the People’s Republic of China. Although studies
of teacher perceptions have been conducted in Hong Kong (Ho & Leung, 2002;
Leung & Ho, 2001), this may represent a very different context from the People’s
Republic of China, due to the history of Western influence in Hong Kong. Ding et al.
(2008) also noted that in the Hong Kong studies talking out of turn was ranked as the
most frequent and troublesome behaviour, similarly to the results of studies
conducted in the West. However, in Hong Kong non-attentiveness was ranked
second, rather than hindering other children, which has most often been in second
place in Western studies (for a review, see Ding et al., 2008). The ‘non-attentiveness’
category used in the Hong Kong studies might correspond to the daydreaming which
was consistently ranked as the most frequent and troublesome behaviour in the
People’s Republic study. Ding et al. (2008) also reported a lower percentage of teach-
ers in the People’s Republic of China who felt they were spending too much time on
problem behaviour, in comparison to studies conducted in the West. These findings
represent some noteworthy differences that appear to be typical of the Chinese culture
and warrant further investigation.

The present study


The present study further examines Chinese teachers’ perceptions of classroom behav-
iour problems, with a particular emphasis on the elementary school setting. A ques-
tionnaire was developed, based in part on Wheldall and Merrett’s 1988 research, with
adaptations developed in response to feedback from Chinese teachers (similar to Ding
et al., 2008). Research in other cultures has suggested that teacher experience, grade
level, student gender, geographic area, school quality, and classroom setting may
predict variation in teacher responses. Specifically, greater teacher experience would
be likely to reduce the amount of time spent on student misbehaviours, and boys
would be more likely to be seen as exhibiting misbehaviours than girls. Analyses of
differences by geographic area, type of school, classroom type/setting, and new
behaviour categories were exploratory.
Educational Psychology 191

Method
There were two phases to this study. During Phase 1, Chinese elementary school
teachers were surveyed to aid in developing categories for student problem behaviour
and items for a teacher questionnaire. During Phase 2, a final version of the teacher
questionnaire was distributed to a large sample of Chinese elementary school teachers,
and their responses were analysed.

Phase 1: development of problem behaviour categories and questionnaire


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Participants and setting


Two groups of teachers participated in this phase of the study. The first group included
18 Chinese elementary school teachers selected from six schools throughout three
provinces (Beijing, Hubei, and Shandong) of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
These teachers were interviewed to aid in developing a list of categories of behaviour
problems. Interviewee demographics were as follows: 16 females (89%) and two
males (11%); ages ranging from 22 to 45; six (33%) teaching lower grade levels (first
and second grade), five (28%) teaching middle grade levels (third and fourth grades),
and seven (39%) teaching upper grade levels (fifth and sixth grades); 11 (61%) from
urban schools and seven (39%) from rural schools; 10 (56%) who had taught for
10 years or less and eight (44%) who had taught for more than 10 years; and eight
(44%) who taught Chinese, six (33%) who taught mathematics, and four (22%) who
taught other subjects (e.g., English, arts, music).
The second group of participants comprised 38 Chinese teachers from one public
elementary school in Beijing. These teachers assisted in developing the questionnaire.
The demographics of these interviewees were as follows: 35 females (92%) and three
males (8%); 13 (34%) teaching lower grade levels (first and second grades), 14 (37%)
teaching middle grade levels (third and fourth grades), and 11 (29%) teaching upper
grade levels (fifth and sixth grades); 19 (50%) had taught for 10 years or less and 19
(50%) had taught for more than 10 years; 14 (37%) taught Chinese, 11 (29%) taught
mathematics, and 13 (34%) taught other subjects (e.g., English, arts, music). All 38
teachers were from the same urban school.

Procedures and measures


The measures used in this study were created by conducting interviews with the initial
group of 18 teachers regarding the most common types of behaviour problems they
perceived in their classrooms, and the specific behavioural characteristics associated
with these problems. For example, teachers were asked: ‘What kinds of behaviour
problems occur in your classroom? Please give some examples’ and ‘Of all the class-
room behaviour problems, which is the most common?’ These interviews lasted
approximately 30 minutes each. They were recorded and transcribed, and then content
was sorted into 10 behavioural categories by two researchers. Then two expert teach-
ers (who had participated in expert teacher training sessions and/or received provincial
or national teaching awards) read the descriptions of the categories to ensure that the
most relevant categories were included and that the descriptions of these categories
were clear and accurate. Where their opinions differed, they discussed these differ-
ences until they reached consensus (this is sometimes referred to as ‘check coding’;
Miles & Huberman, 1994). These 10 categories were then finalised to be used as part
of the teacher questionnaire (see Table 1).
192 J. Shen et al.

Table 1. Most common categories of classroom behaviour problems, derived from teacher
interviews.
Type of problem Specific characteristics
Non-attention Students can’t focus on the learning content, and have no idea what the
teacher is teaching. They just sit there quietly and appear to be thinking
about other things (day-dreaming).
Laughing at Students laugh at classmates answering questions or working on the
others teacher’s assignments, saying things like ‘Stupid’. They look down on
others, using negative words, glaring disparagingly, or speaking with
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tones of disdain.
Over-active Students move around in their seats or don’t stay in their seats, often
making noises that affect other students’ ability to listen. They play
with things on their desk or in their drawer. They move around in the
classroom without permission.
Talking out of Students don’t listen to others; they interrupt teachers and other students
turn with unrelated things to affect teaching negatively. They talk about
unrelated topics to the class, to themselves, or to other students: for
example, laughing or talking without permission.
Uncooperative Students don’t join in the study group. They play by themselves and
appear not to care about the group’s performance, and not to make an
effort at group work. They talk about a lot of things unrelated to their
teamwork in the study group.
Not following Students don’t bring school supplies (pencils, pens, paper) and instead do
the task their own thing in class. They act slowly and can’t keep up with the
teacher’s requests. They can’t complete classroom learning tasks on
time.
Disruptive Students disturb others in various ways during the class, such as by
taking others’ things from their tables, drawing on others’ books, or
pushing others. They interfere with others’ learning and their ability to
do school work.
Non-compliance Students are reluctant to comply with the class rules, unwilling to listen
to the teacher’s directions, and try to defend themselves unreasonably.
They are unwilling to recognise and correct their mistakes. They like to
criticise others and shirk their responsibilities.
Emotional Students are unable to control their emotions, crying or quarrelling when
disturbance frustrated or dissatisfied. They have conflicts with others in the class,
attacking or fighting with others.
Withdrawal Students appear to feel nervous in class, seem afraid of speaking, and
seldom raise their hands to answer questions. They often sit quietly by
themselves, don’t join in with the activities in the class, and rarely talk
with others. They seldom communicate with the teachers.

An initial pool of questionnaire items was then developed, based on items used by
Wheldall and Merrett (1988). As noted by Ding et al. (2008), researchers in this area
have mainly used versions of the Wheldall and Merrett questionnaire adapted to their
particular needs. In this study, items regarding the amount of time teachers spend on
student behaviour problems, the number of students displaying behaviour problems,
the behaviours which teachers find to be most difficult or troubling, and those they find
to be most frequent were all adapted from Wheldall and Merrett to fit the Chinese
context (i.e., the wording of items was amended). In addition, items asking teachers
about which student behaviours are most difficult to tolerate, which behaviours have
the most negative effects on students’ development, and which issues are most difficult
Educational Psychology 193

for them when dealing with students’ behaviour problems were added, in the pursuit
of the researchers’ interests. The researchers examined all items for face validity.
The questionnaires were then distributed to the 38 teachers from the second partic-
ipant group. These teachers reported the amount of time it took to complete the ques-
tionnaire and critiqued the presentation and wording of the items. Slight modifications
were made in accordance with their suggestions. The final questionnaire (which was
part of a larger study of Chinese teachers’ perceptions) contained 14 items, although
in this study only 10 items were examined because of their particular relevance to the
research questions (see Appendix 1).
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Phase 2: distribution of questionnaires and analysis


Participants and setting
The participants in the second phase of the study were 527 Chinese elementary school
teachers. Demographic information is given in Table 2. Some of the participants were
homeroom teachers, who spend more time with their students than subject-matter
teachers and collaborate with other teachers in supervising the progress of the students
in their homeroom class (Liu, 1997).
Participants were from 27 schools in five provinces of the People’s Republic of
China (Beijing, Hubei, Shanxi, Henan, and Shandong). These five provinces differ in
terms of their economic development (i.e., rural versus urban) and the quality of their
schools. A distinction has traditionally been made between ‘key’ and ‘ordinary’ schools
in China: key schools are considered to be of higher quality, have higher percentages
of expert teachers, and tend to be in more urban areas. Schools were selected from each

Table 2. Phase 2 participants’ demographic information.


Item Category Number
Gender Male 95
Female 432
Grade 1–2 171
3–4 178
5–6 178
Class size < 30 66
30–49 170
≥ 50 291
Years teaching ≤5 109
6–10 118
11–20 227
> 20 73
Expertise Expert 117
Ordinary 410
Class setting Homeroom 273
Other 252
Geographic area Rural 170
Urban 357
School quality Key 230
Normal 292
Note: n = 527.
194 J. Shen et al.

of the provinces with a goal of achieving sample diversity in terms of geographic area
and school quality.

Procedures and measures


The measure used in this second phase of the study was the questionnaire developed
in Phase 1 (see Appendix). One of the researchers visited all participating schools and,
with the support of the school principals, distributed the questionnaires to teachers in
regular teachers’ meetings. Each of the school principals granted permission for the
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researchers to distribute the questionnaires. Teachers gave consent prior to participat-


ing. All questionnaires were completed anonymously and collected during the school
visit. A researcher provided individual guidance and explanations to teachers when
needed. Approximately 20 minutes were required to administer and collect the ques-
tionnaires from each school. A total of 550 questionnaires were distributed, and 527
(95.8%) were returned. Following completion of the questionnaires, the researchers
provided teachers with information on teaching reflection and action research, in
appreciation of their participation in the study.

Data analysis
Descriptive statistics, including frequencies, ranks, and percentages, were calculated
for the teachers’ perceptions of behaviour problems. Spearman’s rank order correla-
tion coefficients were conducted to determine relationships between the teachers’
rankings of behaviour problems that were most frequent, most troublesome, most
difficult to tolerate, and most negatively affecting students’ development. The 10 cate-
gories of behaviour problems were examined using chi-squared tests to determine
whether there were differences in different teachers’ perceptions. Independent sample
t tests were used to analyse differences in time spent on classroom behaviour problems
and in percentage of students with behaviour problems across groups of teachers
differing in terms of expertise, classroom setting, and school quality. Differences
between grade levels and number of years spent teaching, as regards time spent on
classroom behaviour problems and the percentage of students with behaviour prob-
lems, were determined through ANOVA tests. Tukey’s honestly significant difference
(HSD) post-hoc comparison tests and linear trend analyses were used to determine
individual differences and trends across years of teaching.

Results
These Chinese teachers reported non-attention to be the most frequent and difficult
behaviour problem to solve, and to have the most negative effects on students’ devel-
opment (see Table 3). Talking out of turn was reported as the second most frequent
and difficult to tolerate and third most troublesome, but it was rated second to last on
negatively affecting students’ development. Although few teachers reported ‘laughing
at others’ as frequent or troublesome, it was perceived as negatively affecting students’
development and as the most difficult to tolerate. Uncooperative behaviour was rated
second in terms of having negative effects on students’ development. A Spearman rank
order correlation coefficient was calculated to analyse similarities among the catego-
ries of frequent, troublesome, negatively affecting students’ development, and difficult
to tolerate. Frequent and troublesome were highly correlated (rs = .87, p < .01),
Educational Psychology 195

Table 3. Ranks and percentages of teachers’ perceptions of classroom behaviour problems.


Frequent Troublesome Development Tolerate
Behaviour problem Rank % Rank % Rank % Rank %
Non-attention 1 57.9% 1 27.3% 1 24.5% 3 12.9%
Talking out of turn 2 18.0% 3 11.8% 9 4.2% 2 15.2%
Over-active 3 14.2% 2 17.6% T5 7.6% 5 10.1%
Not following the task 4 3.2% 5 8.2% 10 3.8% 9 3.8%
Uncooperative 5 2.7% 4 11.6% 2 17.3% 8 4.6%
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Withdrawn 6 1.3% 6 7.8% T7 6.6% 10 2.7%


Laughing at others 7 0.9% 10 1.5% 3 12.7% 1 24.7%
Disruptive 8 0.8% 9 2.8% T7 6.6% 4 12.0%
Non-compliance 9 0.6% 7 6.6% T5 7.6% 6 7.0%
Emotional disturbance 10 0.4% 8 4.4% 4 8.7% 7 6.6%
Note: T indicates a tie for rank.

suggesting that the most frequent type of behaviour problem also tends to be the most
troublesome. The other correlations were not significant (rs = .02–.26).
Just below half (44.6%) of the teachers surveyed claimed they were spending too
much time resolving students’ behaviour problems. Teachers were asked to report the
amount of time spent on behaviour problems during a 40-minute class period and the
number of students who typically exhibit behaviour problems, along with class size.
On average, teachers reported spending 14.5% of their class time on behaviour prob-
lems and that 15.5% of their students had behaviour problems. Of the teachers
surveyed, 86% claimed to have trouble resolving behaviour problems, with the great-
est difficulty being an inability to find effective solutions (45.5%). Chinese teachers
also reported that male students have more behaviour problems than female students
(t[499] = 23.61, p < .001), and that they see male students’ behaviour problems as
more troublesome (93.5%).

Teacher experience
Participants reported how many years they had taught and whether or not they had
been ranked as an expert teacher. Expert teachers tended to have more years of teach-
ing experience (χ2 = 40.03, p < .001). Teaching experience was divided into four cate-
gories: 0–5 years, 6–10 years, 11–20 years, and over 20 years. More experienced
teachers reported ‘withdrawn’ behaviour problems with the same frequency as less
experienced teachers, but they ranked these problems as more troublesome (χ2 =
24.12, p < .001) and as more negatively affecting students’ development (χ2 = 8.31,
p < .05). When asked about issues in resolving students’ behaviour problems, non-
expert teachers and less experienced teachers reported not being able to find effective
solutions more often than did expert teachers (χ2 = 5.64, p < .05) and more experi-
enced teachers (χ2 = 14.46, p < .01).
Expert teachers (t[517] = 2.09, p < .05) and more experienced teachers (F[3,515]
= 4.59, p < .01) reported spending less time on behaviour problems. Tukey HSD post-
hoc tests suggested that teachers with more than 20 years of experience were spending
a significantly smaller portion of a typical 40-minute class period on student behaviour
196 J. Shen et al.

problems (M = 4.57 minutes, SD = 3.13) than were teachers with 0–5 years (M = 6.27
minutes, SD = 3.65) or 6–10 years (M = 6.34 minutes, SD = 3.86) of experience. Linear
trend analysis showed that as teaching experience increased, the time spent on behav-
iour problems decreased (F[1,515] = 12.25, p < .01).

Classroom setting
Homeroom teachers reported non-attention (χ2 = 4.22, p < .05) and not following the
task (χ2 = 4.16, p < .05) as more frequent, and being over-active (χ2 = 4.33, p < .05)
and talking out of turn (χ2 = 7.57, p < .01) as less frequent behaviour problems than
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did other teachers. Homeroom teachers also reported a higher percentage of their class
as typically having behaviour problems (t[498] = 1.99, p < .05), but reported spending
less time on behaviour problems (t[515] = 2.37, p < .05).

Grade level
Grade level was categorised as follows: lower (first and second grades), middle (third
and fourth grades), and upper (fifth and sixth grades). Lower grade level teachers
reported over-active behaviour as more frequent, more troublesome, more negatively
affecting students’ development, and more difficult to tolerate than did middle and
upper grade level teachers (see Table 4). Lower grade level teachers also reported talk-
ing out of turn as less troublesome than did other grade levels (χ2 = 8.02, p < .05), but
as more negatively affecting students’ development (χ2 = 7.07, p < .05).
Upper grade level teachers reported ‘emotional disturbance’ as more troublesome
(χ2 = 7.57, p < .05), and reported withdrawn behaviour (χ2 = 9.52, p < .01) and laugh-
ing at others (χ2 = 7.03, p < .05) as more negatively affecting students’ development,
than did teachers of other grade levels. Middle grade level teachers reported non-
compliance as having a more negative effect on students’ development than did other
grade levels (χ2 = 12.61, p < .01).
After controlling for class size, the researchers found that upper grade level teach-
ers reported spending less time on behaviour problems and indicated a lower percent-
age of their class as typically having behaviour problems (see Table 5).

Geographic area and school quality


Only 10% of the rural schools in this study were key schools, while 60% of urban
schools had received this distinction. School quality and geographic area showed
similar results and are thus reported together. Both urban schools (t[499] = 4.72,

Table 4. Chi-squared results for over-active behaviour problems by grade level.


Grade
1–2 3–4 5–6 χ2
Frequent 24.0% 8.4% 10.7% 17.24***
Troublesome 26.9% 13.0% 13.6% 12.13**
Development 11.7% 6.8% 4.5% 6.22*
Tolerate 15.8% 6.8% 8.0% 8.19*
Note: *p < .05; **p < .01; ***p < .001.
Educational Psychology 197

Table 5. Prevalence of behaviour problems by grade level.


Minutes per class spent % of class with behaviour
on behaviour problem problems
Grade M SD M SD
Lower (1–2) 6.15 3.33 17.1% 13.9%
Middle (3–4) 5.94 3.69 15.7% 12.4%
Upper (5–6) 5.30 3.53 13.9% 10.7%
F 3.40* 11.18***
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Note: *p < .05. **p < .01. ***p < .001.

p < .001) and key schools (t[494] = 2.15, p < .05) reported a lower percentage of
students with behaviour problems than did rural schools. When asked about difficul-
ties in resolving students’ behaviour problems, rural teachers were more likely to
report not being able to understand students’ feelings (χ2 = 5.59, p < .05).

Discussion
The purpose of this study was to examine Chinese teachers’ perceptions of the types
of behaviour problems exhibited in elementary school classrooms, and some of the
factors that might influence those perceptions. Teacher responses indicated that non-
attention was perceived as the most frequent and troublesome behaviour problem. This
finding corresponds with previous findings in China (Ding et al., 2008) and differs
somewhat from typical studies in the West, which find talking out of turn to be the
most frequent and troublesome behaviour (Beaman et al., 2007). In the present study,
talking out of turn was listed as the second most frequent behaviour problem, which
is also consistent with the findings of Ding et al. (2008). One possible explanation is
that the average class size in the present study was around 50: much larger than classes
in the West, which are usually around 30 (see Beaman et al., 2007). A lecture format,
which might be more feasible for larger classes, might lead to more non-attention and
less talking out. These findings suggest that cultural differences influence teacher
perceptions of student behaviours, and that Chinese teachers could benefit from strat-
egies to improve student attention in the classroom.

Difficult to tolerate behaviours and behaviours with a negative effect


on student development
Although non-attention was consistently ranked as the most frequent and the most
troublesome, this behaviour was perceived as being easier for teachers to tolerate in
comparison with laughing at others and talking out of turn. This finding suggests that
the ability to tolerate a problem comprises a unique aspect of teacher perception. In
other studies, researchers have focused on how troublesome or serious a behaviour
seems to be (Beaman et al., 2007; Borg, 1998). It is likely that troublesome behav-
iours, which correspond so closely to frequent behaviours, are irritating because of
their frequency, whereas the category ‘seriousness’ indicates behaviours that,
although rare, might require intervention. In the present study the behaviours that were
the most difficult to tolerate, although not necessarily the most frequent or the most
serious, seemed to add considerably to teacher stress. One possible explanation is that
198 J. Shen et al.

according to Confucianism, which has a strong influence in China, maintaining social


harmony and showing respect are important cultural values (Li, 2007), which could
be perceived as violated by laughing at others or talking out of turn.
Talking out of turn was perceived as both troublesome and difficult to tolerate, but
less likely than some of the other behaviours to affect students’ development nega-
tively. This finding suggests that the perceived negative effect on student development
comprised another unique aspect of teacher perception. This conclusion is also
supported by the finding that the categories ‘frequent’ and ‘troublesome’ were highly
correlated, but the ‘difficult to tolerate’ and ‘negatively affects student development’
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categories did not significantly correlate with others. These aspects of teacher percep-
tion thus seem to be separate, warranting further investigation. One reason why these
categories are separate might be that ‘frequent’ and ‘troublesome’ seem to focus on
the problem in isolation, but ‘difficult to tolerate’ and ‘negative effect on students’
development’ address impact on other people involved in the behaviour.
It was interesting that uncooperative behaviour was ranked as having the second
most negative effect on students’ development. To our knowledge this is a novel find-
ing in the People’s Republic of China; it may be related to curriculum reform,
whereby cooperation between students is increasingly emphasised (Guan & Meng,
2007). As teachers become sensitised to the importance of cooperation, they may be
more likely to rate its absence as a cause for concern about students’ development.
Another possible explanation may be that the question of which behaviours have the
most negative effects on students’ development doesn’t appear to have been examined
in China previously (e.g., Ding et al., 2008; Ho & Leung, 2002; Leung & Ho, 2001).

Contributing factors
In the present study male students were seen as exhibiting more troublesome behav-
iour problems than female students. On average teachers reported 15.5% of a class as
exhibiting behaviour problems, and 44.6% of teachers reported spending too much
time resolving such problems. These findings are consistent with expectations based
on previous research (Beaman et al., 2007; Ding et al., 2008).
Consistent with previous research, the present study found that teachers with more
experience reported spending less time on behaviour problems than newer teachers.
Less experienced teachers also reported not being able to find solutions when resolv-
ing behaviour problems. More experience seems to broaden a teacher’s repertoire of
possible solutions. Teachers with more experience reported the same frequency of
withdrawn behaviours as less experienced teachers, but regarded these behaviours as
more troublesome and as having a more negative effect on student development than
teachers who were newer to the profession. Thus, rather than gaining an increased
awareness of the frequency of these behaviours, more experienced teachers seem to
have become increasingly sensitive to the difficulties associated with internalising
problems. These results suggest that less experienced teachers might benefit from
being mentored by more experienced teachers regarding student classroom behaviour
problems.
Differences in teacher perceptions were also found when focusing on the grade
level taught. Teachers of the upper grades reported fewer problems and less time spent
dealing with misbehaviour than teachers of the younger grades. In the early grades,
over-active behaviour was reported as more frequent and troublesome, harder to cope
with, and more negatively affecting students’ development than in later grades. In the
Educational Psychology 199

middle elementary grades, non-compliance was ranked as more negatively affecting


students’ development than at other grade levels. In the higher elementary grades,
‘emotional disturbance’ was seen as more troublesome; withdrawn behaviour and
laughing at others were seen as more negatively affecting these older students’ devel-
opment. This pattern seems to indicate a trend toward increasing concern for students’
social behaviours in the higher grades, which may be consistent with developmental
expectations (e.g., older students are expected to be more peer-oriented).
Similarly, differences in teacher perceptions were found when considering class-
room type (homeroom or not). Homeroom teachers reported a larger percentage of
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problems, but also indicated that they spent less time dealing with behaviour prob-
lems. One possible explanation might be that they know the students better and are
thus able to resolve behaviour problems more quickly. Another possibility is that these
teachers might have a higher tolerance of such problems, perhaps due to greater
teacher–student familiarity, and so intervene less frequently. Increased communica-
tion between homeroom and non-homeroom teachers regarding students’ classroom
behaviours might be beneficial.
Teacher perceptions were also found to differ by school location. It was somewhat
surprising that rural teachers reported a higher percentage of students as having behav-
iour problems. Rural teachers were also more likely to indicate having trouble under-
standing students’ feelings, which suggests that more training and support in this area
might be helpful. This finding might also be partially explained by school quality (i.e.,
the greater number of key schools in urban areas).

Limitations and future research


The present study is limited to the context of the People’s Republic of China.
Although comparisons and contrasts have been made between this research and previ-
ous research in the West, future studies would benefit from a true cross-cultural
approach in which specific efforts are made to ensure that methods are commensurate.
Specifically, the new questions used in this study, which seem to probe unique aspects
of teacher perception, emerged from interviews with Chinese teachers and to our
knowledge have not been examined in non-Chinese populations.
Future research might also capture more in-depth qualitative data: for example, by
exploring how teachers interpret constructs such as ‘troublesome’, ‘difficult to cope
with’, and ‘having a negative effect on student development’, along with how teachers
interpret student behaviours and categories of behaviours. Research examining the
extent to which teacher perceptions correspond to observations by an independent
researcher could also add to the literature. Finally, future studies employing longitu-
dinal methods would be beneficial in confirming whether and how student behaviours
change over time and also whether and how teachers’ perceptions change as they gain
more experience.

Conclusion
The present study supports previous findings in China (Ding et al., 2008) and contrib-
utes to the literature by investigating several factors that seem to influence teacher
perceptions. Many of these factors have been examined in other countries, but such
research has been limited in China. It appears from the present study that, although
there seem to be cultural differences as regards the type of student behaviours teachers
200 J. Shen et al.

perceive as frequent and troublesome, similar factors contribute to teacher perceptions


in both China and the West. In addition, unique aspects of teacher perceptions emerged
in this study, which warrant further investigation both within and across cultures.

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Appendix 1.
Questionnaire items

1. Do you think you have spent too much time dealing with students’ behaviour problems in
your class? (a) yes (b) no
2. Assuming a 40-minute class, how long do you spend on students’ behaviour problems?
3. What is the most frequent behaviour problem in your class? Please choose from the list of
10 provided.
4. What is the most troublesome behaviour problem in your class? Please choose from the
list of 10 provided.
5. What classroom behaviour problem do you think has the most negative effects on
students’ development? Please choose from the list of 10 provided.
6. What is the behaviour problem you can hardly tolerate in your class? Please choose from
the list of 10 provided.
7. How many students usually have behaviour problems in your class?
How many of them are boys? How many of them are girls?
8. Are the boys’ or girls’ behaviour problems more troublesome in your class?
(a) boys’ problems (b) girls’ problems
9. Have you had trouble when you have tried to resolve students’ behaviour problems in the
past? (a) yes (b) no
10. What are the most difficult issues for you in resolving students’ behaviour problems?
(a) cannot find effective solutions (b) do not understand the students’ feelings
(c) cannot get parents’ collaboration (d) lack related training and instruction
(e) other_________________________