Communication Studies, Department of


Date of this Version

Fall 12-2-2009


A DISSERTATION Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Major: Communication Studies; Under the Supervision of Professor William Seiler
Lincoln, Nebraska: December, 2009
Copyright (c) 2009 Michelle Marie Maresh


The purpose of this study was to extend teacher misbehavior research via an investigation of teacher communication that is perceived as hurtful by college students. While previous research on teacher misbehavior focuses on the content-oriented dimension of teacher-student communication, this study goes a step further by also considering the relational dimension. A mixed methods approach is used in this study to explore the function of hurtful communication in the teacher-student relationship. There were 34 participants in the first, qualitative, phase of this study; whereas the second, quantitative, phase of this study was comprised of 208 participants.

Identified in the results of this study are nine themes of hurtful messages that students perceived teachers to communicate which are also indicative of incompetent or offensive teacher misbehaviors. Face Theory was the framework for this study, as hurtful messages occurred when students perceived their face needs for competence, autonomy, and fellowship were threatened. Following the communication of a hurtful message, students responded using one of three strategies in an attempt to employ corrective facework. Students in the first phase of this study believed their motivation, affective learning, and relational satisfaction was impacted by hurtful messages.

As suggested by the results of the second phase of this study, there are differences in the degree of hurtfulness of each type of hurtful message. An increase in hurtfulness resulted in a decrease in relational satisfaction, affective learning, and motivation for students. However, students who perceived that their teacher demonstrated solidarity while communicating a hurtful message exhibited increased levels of affective learning, motivation, and relational satisfaction.

Taken together, the results of both phases of this study demonstrate that students who perceive their teachers to communicate hurtful messages are less satisfied with the teacher-student relationship, and experience a decline in motivation and affective learning. However, the key to preventing hurtful messages appears to be demonstrating solidarity by creating a teacher-student relationship that moves beyond a role-based perspective and views students as individuals with unique circumstances.

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