Coming Out in the Classroom... An Occupational Hazard?: The Influence of Sexual Orientation on Teacher Credibility and Perceived Student Learning Travis L. Russ, Cheri J. Simonds, and Stephen K. Hunt By: Danae ZImmer
Topic: Sexual Orientation Focus: The effect of teachers’ sexual orientation in the classroom Target: Students (specifically college students) Method: Experimental Research & Discourse Analysis Goal: "To determine if students perceive gay teachers as less credible than straight teachers" (Russ, et al. 2002, 311).
Seven factors that may cause educators to lose their perceived credibility: • insincerity • the use of powerless language • casual appearance • nonimmediacy • speaking in a non-Midwestern dialect • poor presentation skills • verbal pauses and • marginalized status (Beatty & Behnke, 1980; Giles & Street, 1985; Haleta, 1996; Leathers, 1992; Morris, Gorham, Cohen, & Huffman, 1996) (Russ et al. 2002, 311).
Minorities and the Classroom Teachers who are members of minorities are more likely to be perceived as less credible than teachers who are not (Russ et al 2002, 311) . -Female instructors are consistently rated as significantly less credible than male professors (Anderson & Miller, 1997; Centre & Gaubatz, 2000; Hargett, 1999). -Rubin (1998) established students rate Asian-American instructors as less credible and less intelligible than Caucasian instructors. -Hendrix (1998b) students at a predominantly White university believed that their Black teachers were challenged more often than their White professors in regards to classroom authority and teaching credentials.
Vocabulary • Pedagogical- of, relating to, or befitting a teacher or education (Merriam-Webster) • Confederate- united in a league, alliance, or conspiracy (Dictionary.com)
The Study Researchers conducted this study using a confederate, who, gave the same speech to a group of 154 undergrad students over the course of 8 different sections of an introductory communications course. The speaker’s credibility was established using the the same introductory script in every class. The only variation to the speech was a subtle reference to the speaker’s partner: half the time he referred to his partner as ‘Jason’ and in the other half of the classes he referred to his partner as ‘Jennifer’. Once the speech was complete, students were instructed to complete a survey evaluating the speaker.
Things to Keep In Mind • The article is 10 years old (the research is even older) • Most of the sources are from the 90s or later. • The study was conducted at a Midwestern university.
Hypothesis & Research Questions H 1: Students will rate a gay instructor lower in competence and character than a straight instructor. RQ1: Will students rate a gay instructor lower in character than in competence? RQ2: What is the relationship between teacher credibility and perceived student learning? RQ3: Will students perceive they learn more from a straight instructor versus a gay instructor?
What did you like about this teacher? In a majority of the surveys, the speaker was described as ‘intelligent’, ‘informed’ and as a ‘great speaker’ however, when the speaker was perceived to be straight, he was given considerably more positive feedback than when he was perceived as gay.
What did you NOT like about this instructor? The students were four times more likely to give negative comments in regards to the “gay” speaker. The “straight” speaker received 39 negative comments while the “gay” speaker received an astonishing 205.
Continued Certain comments showed up regularly in regards to the “gay” speaker: "I like the speaker, but I don't like the speaker talking about this topic.", "He made me feel guilty. I felt like this speaker is telling me I'm not a good person for not agreeing with him," and "I feel this speaker is using this speech to his advantage" (Russ et al 2002, 317) .
Results The hypothesis said that students would rate the speaker who was perceived to be gay as less credible than the perceived straight speaker. The hypothesis was proven to be correct.
Would you hire this speaker to be a teacher at the university? • 93% would unquestionably hire the “straight” speaker • 30% “might” hire the “gay” speaker • 8% would definitely hire the “gay” speaker
Continued Those who said they would definitely hire the "gay" speaker, responded with answers such as: "Of course [this school] should hire him. We need more teachers who celebrate the concept of diversity," "Yes! [We] need more teachers who show interest in subject matter and truly believe in what they're doing," and "Yes. He would teach others about his differences" (Russ et al 2002, 317-318).
What Three adjectives would you use to describe the speaker? The top three 'shared' adjectives between the gay and straight instructors were: "articulate," "educated," and "energetic." A considerable number of adjectives appeared repeatedly and exclusively on the gay instructor's evaluations. These adjectives included: "flamboyant," "creative," "liberal," "pushy," and "biased" (Russ et al 2002, 318).
Why this is important? Students’ homophobic feelings create a prejudice in the classroom. Homophobic students feel that the gay teacher is less credible than a straight one. Therefore, -they feel they don't learn as much -that the teacher isn't qualified -that they cannot relate to the teacher - or even that the teacher may made advances toward them
Continued For example, several students made the stereotypical assumption that a gay teacher would make sexual advances towards them (e.g., "I would feel awkward and wonder if he likes me"). Perhaps it was because of these biased assumptions that several students made the following comments: "I would feel uncomfortable [with their sexual orientation];" "I would tell them to keep it (their sexuality) in the bedroom;" and "[I would] probably drop the class" (Russ et al 2002, 318-319).
What effect does this have on teachers? • It is interpersonally healthy for the person to "come out" • It is beneficial for classroom self- disclosure, which facilitates trust and rapport • Can make gay,lesbian, bi, transgender students feel more comfortable themselves
Additional Studies • Feelings of straight teachers towards gay, lesbian, bi, transgender students? • Do students actually learn less from gay teachers? • A broader sample of students