School of Education


Doctor of Education (EdD)


Lucinda Spaulding

Primary Subject Area

Education, Elementary; Education, General; Education, Secondary; Education, Teacher Training


adolescents, development, engagement, middle, relationships, teacher-student


The purpose of this grounded theory study was to explain the process by which relationships evolve between teachers and students in a suburban East Tennessee middle school. Based on the assumption that "knowledge is created through action and interaction" (Corbin & Strauss, 2008, p. 2), this study aimed to gain a deeper understanding of the relationships between middle school teachers and their students. A grounded theory approach (see Corbin & Strauss, 2008) was used to collect and analyze data, with the purpose of generating a theory that explains the phenomena. Because the study was driven by teachers' and students' voices, whose perspectives were examined in conjunction with actual behaviors, the constant comparative method of gathering and analyzing data from teacher and student observations and interviews provided the framework for developing grounded theory. Data was first collected from a sample of teachers (n =12) and students (n = 234) via an open-ended prompt, followed by a purposeful sampling of teachers (n = 11) and students (n = 30) selected for individual open-ended standardized interviews, and finally through informal classroom observations. Initial data was divided into general categories, and through the constant comparative method, categories were synthesized based on causal conditions. This study captured the voices of teachers and students and examined teacher-student relationships from their respective points of view. Finally, this study generated an original theoretical model explaining the manifestation of teacher-student relationships in middle school and the relational levels of engagement between teacher and student. Insight gained from this study informs practitioners on how to meet the needs of adolescents within the classroom to promote healthful social and cognitive development.