Pupil Aggressiveness and Perceptual Orientation towards Weakness in a Teacher who is New to the Class

Jan. 22, 2013

Source: Teaching and Teacher Education, Volume 29 (January, 2013), p. 177-187.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study aimed to investigate possible relationships between aggressiveness in pupils and the extent to which pupils will seek signs of weakness in teachers who are new to the class.
The authors also explored whether gender moderated the relationship between aggressiveness and the perceptual orientation studied.

Self-reported data were collected from 755 pupils in grade 10 in 8 Norwegian secondary schools.
The sample comprised 401 boys and 354 girls.

The participants completed the questionnaire during a school lesson.
Their responses were measured by several instruments.
One instrument measured the dependent variable: pupil’s perceptual orientation towards weakness in a teacher that is new to him or her (PO-weak).
Two instruments measured the independent variables: Proactive and Reactive aggressiveness.


The results reveal connections between aggressiveness and perceptual orientation towards weakness in teachers.
There was a substantial and significant relation between proactive aggressiveness and a perceptual orientation towards weakness in teachers new to the class.
Reactive aggressiveness was significantly but weakly related to perceptual orientation towards weakness.

The authors explain that perceptual orientation as a tendency to prefer some types of social cues to others is then linked to motivational traits that are part of the individual’s latent mental structures, e.g. aggressiveness.
This implies that the interaction between a pupil and the context, resulting in a behavioural outcome, is influenced by the pupil’s aggressiveness which leads to a certain kind of perceptual orientation.
The participants are in their last year of compulsory school and obviously have some experience of the differences between teachers.
Hence, reactive aggressiveness could lead to sensitivity to possible threats, such as a teacher who is weak and not able to be protective.
The results support the assumption that proactive aggressiveness is associated with interest in signs of weakness in others.
In addition, the mean values of reactive and proactive aggressiveness were significantly higher for boys than girls.
Hence, gender did not moderate structural relations between aggressiveness and pupil’s perceptual orientation towards weakness in a teacher that is new in class.


Aggressive behaviour in classrooms is a major challenge to teachers, and one of the most frequent reasons for teachers leaving their profession.
Consequently, reducing the risk for pupils’ aggression towards teachers is important.

The start-up period is especially important for establishing leadership and authority.
When teachers prepare to meet new classes, they should be aware of both reactive and proactive aggressiveness in the pupils.
However, they should be most on guard against proactively aggressive pupils who systematically seem to search for opportunities to disempower the teacher.
Thus, the result showing that these proactively aggressive pupils are prone to signs of weakness when meeting a teacher new to them, should be important knowledge to every teacher preparing to teach a new class.

Since proactive aggressiveness is strongly connected to disruptive behaviour towards the teacher, teachers meeting new classes should be particularly conscious about boys in this respect.
The results imply that preconditions for teacher authority should also be considered as they may influence teacher vulnerability by encouraging or discouraging respect for teachers.
School-culture, collegial climate for cooperation and support, and school leadership also contribute to how teachers cope with meeting new pupils.

The authors conclude that the results imply that some pupils seem to have an extended appetite for capturing social power at the cost of the teacher and that signs of weakness in a teacher can be used as a tool in a pupil’s struggle for power and social position in the group.
They argue that the results from this study contribute to theoretical development in the field of aggression, perception and social dynamics of first meetings.
Furthermore, this study adds to this knowledge by describing how two profiles of aggressiveness connect to pupils’ orientation to show selective interest in signs of weakness in teachers.

Updated: Jan. 19, 2015