In this study, pupils' perspectives on qualities that they valued in their mathematics teachers were gathered through focused group interviews involving high achieving, medium-achieving, and low-achieving pupils. The qualities of Caring, Skillful and Humorous emerged among the top three qualities of all the groups interviewed.
Title Qualities of mathematics teachers valued by pupils
Author(s) Lim Lee Hean
Source The Mathematics Educator, 2(2), 181-186
Published by Association of Mathematics Educators
This document may be used for private study or research purpose only. This document or
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The M~thematic~s Educator
1997, Vol. 2, No. 2, 181-186
Qualities Of Mathematics Teachers Valued By Pupils
Lim Lee Hean
In this study, pupils' perspectives on qualities which they valued in their
mathematics teachers were gathered through focused group interviews involving
high achieving, medium-achieving and low-achieving pupils. The qualities of
Caring, Skilful and Humorous emerged among the top three qualities of all the
In the Fleischmann Report on the Quality, Cost and Financing of
Elementary and Secondary Education in New York State (1973): the following
findings were reported:
Teachers' perceptions of the school situation were
substantially digerent from those of students. Teachers
appear largely unaware of the negative feelings of their
students. When asked to rate school morale as "positive",
,'average", or "negative", 52 percent of students picked
"negative" while 64 percent of the teachers picked
'>ositiveW. Asked to assign the same ratings to the overall
educational process, 52 percent of the teachers chose
'>positiveu compared with only 28 percent of the students.
(Vol. I , pp. 46-47)
With reference to the above, overseas studies that compare teacher and
student perspectives on classroom teaching or studies that focus on student opinion
of teacher characteristics are few in quantity (e.g. Cooper & Petrosky, 1976;
Wright, 1984; Batten, 1989). The local scenario is similar in this aspect. A review
on the nature and scope of mathematics education research in Singapore (Chong et
al., 1991) reveals that there is only one study out of the forty-two studies that is
Lim Lee Hean 182
related to the research on the identification of the characteristics of an effective
mathematics teacher. However, the subjects of the study were not the students of
such teachers, but the trainee teachers and practising teachers (Lim & Wong,
The dearth in research on pupil perspectives does not diminish its
significance. There is acknowledgement that description of mathematics teaching
and learning would be inadequate and incomplete unless it includes consideration
of the beliefs and intentions of students (Grouws, 1992).
This study is part of a larger study on the identification of the qualities of
good mathematics teachers (Lim, 1993). Data for the study were generated from
three sources: administration of a school-wide pupil survey, classroom
observations, and in-depth qualitative interviews for data on pupil perspectives.
This article presents that part of the study which involved quantifying the
We believe that knowledge of pupil perceptions is an integral part of
mathematics teaching. Such knowledge provides useful information for
researchers and practitioners, as teaching is fundamentallyfor the pupils and they
are the reason for its existence. Information with regard to pupil perceptions is an
invaluable source in enabling teachers to reflect on their existing practices.
Greater awareness of pupil perceptions can help enhance professional growth.
With clearer insight into teacher qualities that appeal to pupils, decision-making
in classroom settings can be better effected and this can contribute to an
improvement in mathematics teaching.
This study is guided by the following three research questions:
1. What are the qualities of mathematics teachers valued by pupils?
2. What are the top three qualities of mathematics teachers valued by pupils
in each of the focused groups of high, medium and low mathematics
3. What are the overall top three qualities of mathematics teachers valued by
183 Qualities Of Malhematics Teachers Val~redBy Pupi1,s
Sixty pupils in a government secondary school identified by mathematics
teachers as high-achieving, medium-achieving and low-achieving were the
subjects in this study. Three groups of 5 pupils each representing the better
mathematics pupils from the top quarter, the weaker mathematics pupils from the
bottom quarter and the middle group of average mathematics pupils were
identified by their respective mathematics teachers. The interviews with pupils
were conducted through focused group discussions in the school. The researchers
did not know any of the interviewees at a personal level.
At the interviews, the pupils were asked the following questions: "Can
you share with us what you like about XX's mathematics teaching?" and "Can you
share with us how you find XX as a person?' Audio-recordings of the interviews
were made and the respondents were given the assurance that the recordings were
basically for assisting the researchers in accurate recall. It was also explicitly
expressed that there were no "right" or "wrong" answers to the questions posed,
and their frank opinions would be appreciated.
The focused group discussion approach had been adopted in order that
the interviewees would be encouraged to be more forthcoming and spontaneous in
their response. In the process, however, one drawback which became apparent was
the domination of views expressed by the more vocal respondents in the group.
There was conscious effort to encourage the participation of some of the pupils to
share their views. Another methodological drawback in a study of this nature was
that although 12 focused groups comprising a total of 60 pupils were involved, the
findings might not be sufficiently comprehensive to be generalised.
However, this method was adopted as the purpose was to identify
qualities of mathematics teachers based on pupil perspectives of action in practice,
and not on any structured theoretical framework. The perspectives of pupils
served as the directional vector, focusing on the positive qualities of teachers.
The interview transcripts were examined to determine the qualities which
the pupils valued in their mathematics teachers. Similarities and differences in
perspectives among the focused groups were recognised. There was quantification
of the qualitative data with the use of frequency and percentage counts, and the
corresponding rank position for teacher quality of the respective focused groups
Lim Lee Hean
Not pre-determined, but elicited from the actual expressions of the pupils,
the following nine qualitative categories were employed:
Caring (Ca) Understanding (Un)
Sense of Discipline (Di) Fair (Fa)
Friendly (Fr) Humorous (Hu)
Skilful (Sk) Voice Pro.jection (Vo)
Table 1 : FrequencytPercentage and Corresponding Rank Position (in brackets)
for Teacher Quality Against Focused Group
H M L Sum Percent
Ca ll(1.5) 10 (2) 11 (2) 32 (1) 18.9 (1)
Un 3 (7) 3 (8) 0 - 6 (8) 3.6 (8)
Di 8 (4) 6 (6) 6 (4.5) 20 (5) 11.8 (5)
Fa 2 (8.5) 1 (9) 1 (7) 4 (9) 2.4 (9)
Fr 6 (6) 11 (1) 6 (4.5) 23 (4) 13.6 (4)
Hu l 1 (1.5) 8 (3.5) 9 (3) 28 ( 3 ) 16.6 (3)
Sk lO(3) 8 (3.5) 12 (1) 30 (2) 17.8 (2)
V0 2 (8.5) 7 (5) 0 - 9 (7) 5.3 (7)
Pa 7 (5) 5 (7) 5 (6) 17 (6) 10.1 (6)
\ CaHuSk FrCaHuSk SkCaHu CaSkHu
H : High-achieving group - : Similar Placing
M : Medium-achieving group \ : Qualities arranged in
L : Low-achieving group descending order
Qualities Of Mathemafic.~teacher,^ Valued By PupiL~
Quantifying the qualitative data reveals that the qualities which appeal to
pupils, in descending order of frequency, are as follows: Caring, Skilful,
Humorous, Friendly, Sense of Discipline, Patience, Voice Projection,
Understanding and Fair (Table 1).
For each of the focused groups, the qualities of Caring, Skilful and
Humorous emerged among the top three qualities. The high achievers considered
Caring and Humorous of equal importance, followed by Skilful. The medium
achievers had the opinion that being Friendly was the most important, followed by
Caring as the second quality, whereas Skilful and Humorous were considered third
in placing. For the low achievers, the quality of Caring was placed second only to
Skilful, the third quality being Humorous. Overall, the top three teacher qualities
are Caring, Skilful and Humorous.
Batten, M. (1989). Teacher and pupil perspectives on the positive aspects of
classroom experience. Scottish Educational Review, 21 (l), 48-57.
Chong, T.H, Khoo, P.S, Foong, P.Y., Kaur, B, & Lim-Teo S.K. (1991). A state-
of-the-art review on mathematics education in Singapore. Singapore: Institute of
Cooper C.R. & Petrosky, A. (1976). Secondary schools students' perceptions of
math teachers and math classes. Mathematics Teacher, 69, 226-233.
Fleischmann report on the quality, cost and financing of elementary and
secondary education in New York State. (1973). New York: Viking Press.
Grouws, D.A. (ed.). (1992). Handbook of research on mathematics teaching and
learning. New York: Macmillan.
Lim, S.K. & Wong, K.Y. (1989). Perceptions of an effective mathematics teacher.
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Lim Lee Wean 186
Lim, L.H. (1993). Identification of the qualities of good mathematics teachers.
Unpublished M.Ed Dissertation, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.
Wright, C. (1984). Stereotyping: teacher" and "good teacherJ' characteristics.
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