Social Stratification and Teacher Performance

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Social stratification is an important concept in sociology and has many definitions which revolve around it being ‘a socially constructed concept’ which is based on ‘structured inequality’; ‘the inequality may be in the form of income and wealth, an individual’s biological or ethnic make-up, or may be as a result of age or disability’ (Scottish Further Education Unit, 2006). In addition, the inequalities exist ‘among persons and between social groups with respect to the access, acquisition and distribution of scarce and valued resources’ (Giddens et al 2003; Lenski 1966; Sanderson 1999; Slomczynski and Shabad 2000) resulting in a somewhat ‘rigid subdivision of a society into a hierarchy of layers’ (Business Dictionary.Com, 2011). The effects of social stratification are experienced by people and organizations on a daily basis so that the formal education system is not immune to its associated inequalities. As a result, the factors of social stratification, which are generally identified as power, class, status and education among others, has many implications for the teaching/learning environment and individuals in schools. For the purpose of this academic assignment, I will attempt to show how the factors of social stratification can affect teacher performance in primary schools in Trinidad and Tobago as well as strategies I would use to reduce negative effects of social stratification in my classroom.

In our country, we have a contemporary or plural society where different religions, cultures and so on come together to form one society. As a result of this diversity, we have many distinct groups and organizations, some more powerful than others. In the classroom, power, as a factor of stratification, plays a critical role and affects teacher performance even in the primary school level of education. One definition of power synonymous with Max Weber’s definition states that power means one's capacity to impose one's will, regardless of whether this activity is supported or rejected. Like Weber pluralist writers posit that the amount of power in any society is seen to be relatively fixed ("constant") so that any social group which intends to acquire power must do this at the expense of another group hence the phrase "zero-sum" totality of power. Power is similar to autonomy which is ‘independence and an individual’s ability to alter the environment when necessary’ (Eggen & Kauchak, 2007). In the classroom teachers hold more power than their students as they generally set rules and apply consequences as well as regulate classroom activities. However, if a class consists of deviant students who disobey the teacher, the power that the teacher holds will be transferred to the students who may hold the teacher ransom to their demands for less teaching time or leniency with regard to school uniform. As a result, if a teacher perceives that a class is deviant she may expect a power struggle and undermining of her authority which may result in her being lenient with the class from the start. Therefore she will have low academic expectations of the students because of ‘lost power’ leading to mediocrity.

Similarly, if students in a class come from affluent homes or powerful families this may impress a teacher, so that she may give these students special privileges and attend to them more so as to impress their parents and families. For example, if the attorney general’s daughter was placed in my class, this may motivate me to be more productive and caring so that the child is happy and her powerful father will be impressed. A teacher may also think that by impressing the powerful parents or families this will make her by association ‘powerful’ and thus lead to special privileges in the school or society.

Social class as a term has many connotations however Simkhovitch definition which is reflective of a Marxian perspective states that a social class is ‘an organized body of individuals whose economic interests coincide’...
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