Date of Award

5-31-2016

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Education/Higher Education PhD

First Advisor

Wenfan Yan

Second Advisor

Jack Leonard

Third Advisor

Dan French

Abstract

This explanatory case study seeks to understand the nature of middle school educators’ self-efficacy in an urban public school district during an era of accountability. The study was conducted in a progressive school district, known as OakRidge Pubic Schools. A sequential mixed methods design with a participant-selection model variation was employed. The study identified teachers’ level of self-efficacy via the Teacher’s Sense of Efficacy Scale (Tschannen-Moran & Woolfolk Hoy, 2001), a quantitative survey used to determine high and low self-efficacy focus groups. During these subsequent focus group interviews, the competing objectives of fulfilling responsibilities levied from accountability mandates and initiatives, as well as meeting the dynamic needs of students during the years of adolescence, were each explored as influences on the educators’ general teaching efficacy.

Quantitative findings revealed that middle school educators in the OakRidge district had a high sense of self-efficacy overall. Of the three composite variables measured—instructional strategies, classroom management, and student engagement—middle school OakRidge educators reported the lowest sense of self-efficacy in terms of their ability to engage students. Consistent with other quantitative studies (Ross, 1994), female educators had a significantly higher sense of efficacy than their male counterparts. No other categorical data point measured—years’ experience, degree type, degree level, content area, current grade level taught, or historical grade level taught—revealed any significance in terms of the survey overall or any of the three composite variables.

Qualitatively, both groups of educators (high and low) expressed frustration with the impact of standardized testing. However, the higher group displayed resiliency in the face of this adversity. Both the high and low educator groups highlighted the complex dynamic of working with adolescents, identifying empathy as a crucial practice in middle grades education. Finally, educators in the high efficacy group revealed an ability to seamlessly embed “life lessons” in order to simultaneously meet the dual academic and holistic objectives of being a middle grades educator. Low efficacy group members presented these objectives as more of a binary, expressing frustration in meeting both. Findings from this case study can serve to inform professional development for middle grades educators.