Power is the ability to influence others. Several things affect power in the classroom. In organizational behavior, these factors are called power dependencies. Some common power dependencies in the classroom include student values, the relationship between the teacher and student, and counterpower.
Student values can play a significant role in whether or not the teacher’s power influences a student. In other words, if the student cares about what the teacher wants them to do, it is more likely they will be affected by the teacher. For example, it is common for students to love PE. If the teacher wants the students to complete specific assignments to have PE, students will comply because they care about PE. However, the converse is true that if students do not care or value PE, they may not comply.
The second dependency of power is the relationship between the student and teacher. If the two parties hate each other, there will be little hope of compliance except through coercion. A bitter truth of teaching is that sometimes a teacher can foster good relationships with students, and sometimes they cannot. It is essential to realize that there could be student resistance to the teacher’s power if there is tension between a student and teacher.
Counterpower is essentially the power the student has to influence the teacher. If a student possesses a high amount of power, it is possible to expect a high resistance level. For example, there is a common stereotype of the student-athlete not complying with completing academic assignments. The athlete can do this because they possess some counterpower due to their athletic status. This stops the teacher from holding the athlete accountable for not completing assignments.
Use of Power
There are also several ways that a teacher can use power. A teacher can control the flow of information to students. This is common when the teacher is still making decisions about something or withhold information to elicit a desired behavior. For example, a teacher may not share the details of the amount of PE time students will get if they complete assignments. This may be because the teacher is unsure how much they can give at that moment and need to work it out. Information can also be shared to encourage behavior, such as a teacher being honest about why the students can not play outside due to unforeseen circumstances.
Teachers can also control access to people. For example, it is common for teachers to separate from students who might be talking too much when together. This is a classical power move to encourage compliance with on-task behavior. A teacher can also award good behavior by allowing students to work together.
Another everyday use of power in the classroom is controlling the choices that are available to students. A teacher may want to give the students a specific range of options for various activities. By shaping the choices, the teacher exercises power while also allowing the students a say in what happens in the classroom.
A final exercise of power is the students’ perception of the cooperation between the teacher and the administration. If students know that they will not get in trouble if they are ever sent out of class to the higher administration, this can seriously hamper the power of a teacher. Therefore, the teacher and administration must show that they have a strong alliance and work together to address students’ misbehavior.
Power is a an important aspect of the teaching experience. Teacher need to be consciously aware of how different factors can affect their power. Without this knowledge a teacher can struggle with determining the best way to handle a particular situation in their classroom.