Jaye Peterson

Date Approved


Degree Type

Campus Only Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department or School

Leadership and Counseling

Committee Member

Ronald Williamson, PhD

Committee Member

Diane Parfitt. PhD PhD

Committee Member

Rema Reynolds, PhD PhD

Committee Member

Jaclynn Tracy, PhD PhD


In the United States, race, poverty, and language are all predictors of academic achievement. These achievement gaps have the potential to create long-term, negative, economic, and social implications for students of color, those living in poverty, or those who are English Language Learners (ELL). A school climate characterized by a caring student/teacher relationship is one approach that could mitigate the negative outcomes and help to close these gaps. However, as the student population becomes increasingly non-White and ELL, but teachers remain predominantly White, there are cultural differences that may inhibit the development of a caring student/teacher relationship. Therefore, it is important to investigate how students perceive care and determine which caring factors are most important for students. This study was conducted to determine which caring behaviors were most important to middle school students and to identify trends by grade level, gender, race, socioeconomic status, and ELL classification. To examine students’ perception of caring teacher behaviors, a diverse group of 1,186 middle school students (400 sixth graders, 388 seventh graders, and 391 eighth graders) from five middle schools were surveyed. Frequency tables, and nonparametric, ANOVA and chi-square tests were used to compare students’ responses. The tests revealed 17 items that were most reflective of a caring teacher. Further analysis revealed differences by grade, gender, race, socioeconomic status, and ELL classification. The results of this study show that care is perceived differently by subgroups of students and could assist educators in developing more meaningful caring relationships with all students but more importantly with historically marginalized students.