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Excerpted from chapter 1 of Temperament in the Classroom: Understanding Individual Differences, by Barbara K. Keogh, Ph.D.
Copyright © 2003 by Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Temperament in the Classroom: An Overview
Each fall the process begins anew. Hundreds of thousands of pupils and tens of thousands of teachers begin the annual migration to the classroom. The pupils are many ages and sizes. They come from different ethnic, cultural, and linguistic backgrounds. Some have the aptitudes and experiences necessary for success in school. Others have limited skills or have not had opportunities to master the prerequisite knowledge demanded in the classroom. Some come to school eagerly — motivated to learn and confident that they will be successful. Others approach school reluctantly — uncertain about themselves and about the academic and social demands of school.
Teachers, too, are of many ages and different ethnic, cultural, and linguistic backgrounds. Like pupils, they approach the start of school differently. Some are experienced and well prepared. Others are novices, facing a classroom of students for the first time. Some are confident; some are fearful. Some are enthusiastic; others dread the start of the school year.
Both pupils and teachers bring a range of individual differences to school, yet the expectation is that they share a common goal of acquiring new knowledge and skills. They will spend 5 days a week together in the same classroom for 8 or 9 months. For some, this will be a positive experience, but for others the months will be filled with stress and unhappiness. The students will not have learned and the teachers will feel dissatisfied and unsuccessful.
What accounts for these differences in experiences? Certainly the physical conditions of classrooms and schools and the resources available affect learning. Some aspects of school life are very basic or tangible. Do students feel safe? Are text books and instructional materials available? Is the classroom overcrowded? Have teachers been well prepared in the subject matter to be taught and for the many demands of the classroom?
Other contributing factors to successful schooling, not as overt, lie in the students themselves. Many student characteristics contribute to whether the students' experiences in school are positive or negative and to whether they are learning or simply passing time. Students differ in academic aptitudes, in cognitive abilities, in linguistic skills, even in the languages they speak. In addition to their previous learning opportunities and experiences, students' attitudes, motivations, and interests affect how they respond to the content and the methods of instruction. They also affect how students interact with teachers and with peers. Similarly, teachers' knowledge and abilities, their instructional skills, their interests, their expectations, and their motivations influence how they organize and manage the classroom, how they teach, and how they interact with students.
Differences in knowledge, aptitude, motivation, cultural background, and interests alone neither explain nor capture fully the nature of children's and teachers' experiences in school, however. Classroom life is also affected by individual differences in temperament. Indeed, students' and teachers' temperaments have powerful interactive effects that contribute to their experiences in school. These interactions are the focus of this book.
WHAT IS TEMPERAMENT?
Temperament is one of those elusive and hard-to-define characteristics that describe individual differences among people. Researchers classify specific temperaments differently, but on a day-to-day basis, parents and teachers have a "we know it when we see it" att