Teachers as significant others: Gender differences in secondary school pupils' perceptions

Moshe Tatar*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Background. Numerous studies refer to the impact of parents and friends as significant others for adolescents. Given the unique nature of the relationships between teachers and their pupils and their intensive everyday interactions, the present study focuses on a not yet covered topic, namely the meanings that adolescents attach to the significance of their teachers. Aims. This study was aimed at examining gender differences in secondary school pupils' perceptions regarding positive and negative aspects of the significance of their teachers, and to investigate the possible different domains in which teachers as compared with parents and friends might be significant for the adolescents. Samples. A total of 297 Israeli secondary school pupils (approximately 57 per cent girls and 43 per cent boys) studying in 12 tenth grade classes (age modal 16) participated in this study. Methods. A questionnaire dealing with pupils' perceptions of significant teachers was administered. Pupils were asked to indicate the extent to which significant teachers are characterised by various descriptors (it was defined for the pupils that a significant teacher is one whom the pupil perceives as having an important influence on her/him). In addition pupils were asked to answer two open-ended questions regarding the domains in which teachers, as compared to their parents and their friends, might be significant for them. Results. Findings showed that the most frequently mentioned characteristics of significant teachers were: teachers who 'take pupils seriously', 'have confidence in them', 'make it easier for them to understand things' and 'push them to do well'. It was also found that girls, more than boys, characterise significant teachers as facilitating learning and relationships; and that boys, more than girls, perceive significant teachers as obstructing their personal development. Conclusions. Our findings allude to the high potential that teachers may have for impact on their pupils, beyond the domain of learning alone, and provide support for the existence of differential perceptions of significant teachers among boys and girls. These gender differences were explained in terms of the different character of teachers' interaction with the two sexes, and the fact that in the Israeli educational system more than 80 per cent of the teaching staff are women.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)217-227
Number of pages11
JournalBritish Journal of Educational Psychology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1998


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