JVER v25n1 - The Effects of Gender and Years of Teaching Experience on Explanatory Style of Secondary Vocational Teachers
The Effects of Gender and Years of Teaching Experience on Explanatory Style of Secondary Vocational Teachers
Bettye P. SmithUniversity of Georgia
Helen C. HallUniversity of Georgia
Constance Woolcock-HenryUniversity of Georgia
The explanatory style of 219 secondary vocational teachers in Georgia was determined using the Attributional Style Questionnaire ( M.E.P. Seligman, 1984 ). Teachers had similar explanatory styles based on gender; they had an optimistic style. Based on years of teaching experience, teachers who had taught between 11 and 20 years were more optimistic on negative events and all events than teachers who had taught 21 years and longer.
The education reform movement of the 1980s was primarily directed toward improving the academic skills of college-bound students; little attention was given to strengthening academic skills of those students who were not college-bound. However, during recent years, politicians and business leaders have recognized and acknowledged the need to better prepare students for the workplace ( Smith & Edmunds, 1998 ). The Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Education Act of 1998 and the School-to-Work Opportunities Act of 1994 are examples of national reports that have promoted an urgency in preparing students for the workplace.
The Carl D. Perkins Vocational Education Act, first established in 1984, focused on improving vocational programs and serving special populations--such as the underemployed, unemployed, and disadvantaged. The law was reauthorized in 1990 as the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Education Act ( American Vocational Association, 1993 ), and again in 1998 as the Carl D. Perkins Vocational-Technical Education Act ( Hettinger, 1999 ). The most recent law, Perkins Act 1998, is expected to give states and local districts greater flexibility to develop programs while making them more accountable for student performance.
Additionally, such federal legislation as the School-to-Work Opportunities Act of 1994 (STWOA) has been designed to assist educators in preparing students to be able to respond better to workplace needs. Originally focused on youth apprenticeship, the legislation has evolved into a much more comprehensive area: school-to-work transitions. The recently enacted STWOA stimulated more significant collaboration between education and employers to help prepare a high skilled workforce ( Scott & Sarkees-Wircenski, 1996 ).
Although legislation has been passed and funds allocated for work-based programs, implementation has to be orchestrated and executed by knowledgeable professionals. Since one characteristic of secondary vocational education programs is preparation for the workplace, implementation of work-based initiatives is likely to be the responsibility of vocational teachers. However, the success of such work-based programs is linked to the perspective of the vocational teacher toward change and adaptability. According to Pellatiro ( 1989 ), American vocational-technical schools need teachers who exhibit positive professional attitudes. A positive attitude is generally conceived as a state of readiness to respond effectively in challenging situations. Organizing and managing work-based initiatives and programs may prove to be challenging for vocational teachers. How vocational teachers view new and different programs may be detected through explanatory style, a descriptive term used for the manner in which individuals habitually explain to themselves why life events occur as they do ( Seligman, 1990 ).
Explanatory style has been used extensively in psychological research to predict depression ( Hjelle, Busch, & Warren, 1996 ; Peterson & Seligman, 1984 ; Seligman, 1990 ). The explanatory style theory offers a framework for examining optimism and pessimism ( Seligman, 1990 ) and is a construct that emerged from the concept of learned helplessness. Explanatory style is a descriptive term used to explain variations in people's response to uncontrollable events; it reflects individual differences along three dimensions in how people habitually explain good and bad events they encounter in life. The first dimension is the extent that explanations are internal "It's I" versus external "It's someone else." The second dimension contrasts stable "It's going to last forever" versus unstable "It's short lived" elements. The third is the global "It affects everything that happens to me" versus the specific "It's only going to affect this" dimension ( Gottschalk, 1996 ; Peterson, Buchanan, & Seligman, 1995 ). According to Seligman ( 1990 ), individuals who give internal, stable, and global explanations for bad events are more prone to have a pessimistic explanatory style, whereas individuals who explain bad events in terms of external, unstable, and specific causes have an optimistic explanatory style.
Seligman ( 1990 ) distinguished the beliefs of optimists and pessimists to illustrate their opposing perspectives on difficult life events. Optimists believe that defeat is a temporary, situational setback that is not their fault. Pessimists believe that bad events are long-lasting, potentially undermining large portions of their lives, and likely to be their fault. The differing beliefs that distinguish optimists and pessimists have a direct impact upon their abilities to take actions in difficult situations.
According to some researchers, ( Fry & Hibler, 1993 ; Moss & Johansen, 1991 ), optimism is described as an ability to consider challenging situations as opportunities rather than perceiving challenging situations as threatening, insurmountable tasks. Thus, whether vocational teachers view work-based education reform and initiatives as opportunities or threats may be understood using the explanatory style construct. Initially, we hypothesized that vocational teachers who adjust readily to change are needed to initiate these initiatives and work-based programs. Explanatory style has attracted research interest in recent years ( Hjelle, et al.,1996 ; Peterson & Seligman, 1984 ; Phelps & Waskel, 1994 ; Seligman, 1990 ) and guided our research. The relevant studies we reviewed pertain primarily to psychology and explanatory style.
Findings from Burns and Seligman ( 1989 ) showed that explanatory style toward negative events were stable across adult life. On the other hand, explanatory style for positive events demonstrated no stability across the adult life span. They concluded that if explanatory style for negative events was a stable aspect of adult life functioning, then individuals with a dysfunctional explanatory style might be at an increased risk for depression, poor health, and low achievement throughout their lives. Likewise, Seligman and Elder ( 1986 ) found stability of explanatory style for negative events but no stability of explanatory style for positive events.
Findings were congruent from Greenberger and McLaughlin ( 1998 ) and Bunce and Peterson ( 1997 ) studies investigating gender differences. Greenberger and McLaughlin ( 1998 ) explored sex differences in attachment, coping and explanatory style. They found that females did not differ from males in explanatory style. Similarly, Bunce and Peterson ( 1997 ) found no mean differences between men and women on any dimension of the Attributional Style Questionnaire (ASQ) for either positive or negative events.
In an attempt to establish norms for the Optimism-Pessimism scale of the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, 691 girls and 624 boys who ranged in age from 13-17 years were used. Results revealed that boys reported significantly more optimism than girls. On negative events, girls reported significantly more pessimism than boys. Additionally, for positive events and age groups, scores among the age groups (13, 14, 15, 16 and 17) were significantly different, with 16-year-olds reporting the least optimism. For negative events, scores among the age groups were significantly different; again, 16-year-old showed the most pessimism. The age and sex interaction was not significant for either positive events or negative events, meaning that the sex differences were consistent across ages ( Malinchoc, Colligan, & Offord, 1996 ). In conflict with Malinchoc et al. was Nolen-Hoeksema, Gingus, and Seligman's ( 1991 ) study, that found boys constantly showed more depressive symptoms and maladaptive explanatory styles than girls at an early age.
Phelps and Waskel's ( 1994 ) study with women 40 to 75 years old attempted to determine whether a significant relationship existed between explanatory style and specific work reinforcers. Their results revealed a weak but significant relationship between explanatory style and ability utilization, activity, and creativity. The authors concluded that individuals with a depressive explanatory style, experience less job satisfaction in the areas studied.
The explanatory style thesis is a new phenomenon in education; consequently, little is known about the explanatory style of teachers. Hall and Smith ( 1999 ) started the discourse on the explanatory style of teachers with a study on vocational teachers and found they possessed an optimistic explanatory style. Vocational teachers were similar on positive events (CoPos), but different on negative events (CoNeg) and all events (CPCN). On negative events, business and marketing teachers were more optimistic than trade and industrial teachers, family and consumer sciences and marketing teachers were more optimistic than agricultural teachers. On all events, business teachers were the most optimistic of the six program areas investigated.
Conclusions from the studies we reviewed are drawn. There was no gender difference reported for explanatory style when participants were adults. However, there was a difference when participants were younger. Adolescent boys were more optimistic than girls. Interestingly, women with a pessimistic explanatory style experienced less job satisfaction. The one study concerning explanatory style of teachers ( Hall & Smith, 1999 ) theorized that gender and years of teaching experience might affect explanatory style.
Therefore, we attempted to determine the effect of gender and years of teaching experience on explanatory style (optimism or pessimism) of secondary vocational teachers. Objectives of the study were to determine the explanatory style of secondary vocational teachers based on gender and positive events (CoPos)--how positively/optimistically one reacts to good events, negative events (CoNeg)�how positively/optimistically one reacts to bad events, and all events (CPCN)--how positively/optimistically one reacts to all events. We were also interested in determining if differences existed on gender and positive events, negative events, and all events. Finally, we examined possible differences based on years of teaching experience and positive events, negative events, and all events.
The population of secondary vocational teachers in Georgia was used to achieve the sample. Names and addresses of 3,746 vocational teachers were obtained from the Georgia Department of Education. Based on Krejcie and Morgan ( 1970 ), the number of participants for a simple random sample was established at 351. For descriptive research, using the largest sample possible is recommended especially if the expected difference between groups is small; this difference might not show up if the samples are too small ( Gay, 1987 ; Gall, Borg, & Gall, 1996 ). According to Fraenkel and Wallen ( 1990 ), the larger the sample, the more likely it is to represent the population from which it comes. The sample size was doubled since we anticipated that vocational teachers share some similarities and that differences between groups might be small. The actual sample, therefore, included 703 possible participants. Two hundred and nineteen or 31% of potential participants responded, 36% male and 61% female. Participants had a range of 1 to 35 years of teaching experience. The complexities of the questionnaire, description provided in the ensuing paragraphs, increased the chances of a low response rate. However, according to Sudman ( 1976 ), there should be at least 100 subjects in a major subgroup and 20 to 50 in minor subgroups in order to generalize. The 219 participants in this study satisfied Sudman's principle.Instrumentation
The Attributional Style Questionnaire (ASQ) was developed by Peterson, Semmel, von Baeyer, Abramson, Metalsky & Seligman ( 1982 ) and revised by Seligman ( 1984 ). The ASQ was designed to determine style of thinking; pessimistic or optimistic. The self-reporting questionnaire contains 12 hypothetical situations: 6 negative events and 6 positive events. Six of the questions relate to interpersonal/affiliation and six are achievement-related. Participants are asked to imagine the event happening to them. There are four responses per situation. First, respondents are asked to provide a reason or cause for the situation. This response is not scored; but is used to prepare respondents. The second response deals with the internal or external dimension of explanation. The third response deals with stable or unstable dimension of explanatory style, and the fourth response is concerned with the global or specific dimension of explanatory style.
Respondents indicate on a 7-point rating scale, 1=completely external/completely unstable/completely specific to 7=completely internal/completely stable/completely global, the degree to which the cause of each situation was internal or external, stable or unstable, and global or specific with each dimension being rated separately. On the rating scale, positive situations range from a high of 7 to a low of 1, whereas negative situations range from a high of 1 to a low of 7.
Reported reliability for ASQ subscales (internal/external, stable/unstable, and global/specific) range from .39 to .64 which are unsatisfactory. However, when composite scores are formed (CoPos, CoNeg, CPCN) substantially higher and satisfactory levels of internal consistency are found ( Reivich, 1995 ). Composite measures have reported reliabilities of .69 and .73 for positive and negative scores, respectively. One study reported reliabilities of .72 for CoPos and .75 for CoNeg ( Peterson et al., 1982 ). For our study, reliabilities on the composite scores of .64 (CoPos), .61 (CoNeg), and .76 (CPCN) were calculated.
The three attributional dimensions (internal, stable, and global) rating scales associated with each event description are scored in the directions of increasing internality, stability, and globality. The scales are anchored so that external, unstable, and specific attributions receive lower scores (optimistic), and internal, stable, and global attributions receive higher scores (pessimistic). So on the negative dimension, low scores are more optimistic and high scores are more pessimistic, while on the positive dimension low scores are more pessimistic and high scores are more optimistic.
For the positive events, Composite Positive Attributional Style (CoPos), the total of all positive situations scores are summed and divided by the total number of positive situations. For example, the best score is 7 multiplied by 3 questions per situations multiplied by 6 situations then divided by 6 positive situations equals 21. The worst score is 1 multiplied by 3 questions per situations multiplied by 6 situations then divided by 6 positive situations equals 3. The range of scores is from 3 to 21. This score reflects how positively or optimistically one reacts to good events.
For negative events, Composite Negative Attributional Style (CoNeg), the total of all negative situations scores are summed and divided by the total number of negative situations. For example, the best score is 1 multiplied by 3 questions per situations multiplied by 6 situations then divided by 6 negative situations equals 3. The worst score is 7 multiplied by 3 questions per situations multiplied by 6 situations then divided by 6 negative situations equals 21. The range of scores is 3 to 21. This score reflects how positively or optimistically one reacts to bad events.
For all events, Composite Positive minus Composite Negative (CPCN), is computed by subtracting the lowest scores 3 (lowest CoPos) - 21 (lowest CoNeg) = -18 and the highest scores 21 (highest CoPos) - 3 (highest CoNeg) = 18. The negative score (-18) is less optimistic (pessimistic) whereas the positive score (18) is most optimistic. Therefore, the range of scores for CPCN is -18 to 18. This score reflects how positively or optimistically one reacts to all events- a measure of overall explanatory style, optimism or pessimism.Procedures
The data were collected using a mailed questionnaire developed by Seligman ( 1984 ) entitled The Attributional Style Questionnaire. A cover letter and questionnaire were mailed to 703 secondary vocational teachers in Georgia. The questionnaire packet included a pre-addressed, stamped return envelope. According to Dillman ( 1978 ), a follow-up postcard should be sent in approximately 14 days, and so two weeks later a postcard was mailed to 599 participants reminding them to complete the survey. Two weeks later a second questionnaire was mailed to participants who had still not responded.
According to Miller and Smith ( 1983 ), comparing early respondents with late respondents will allow one to estimate the representativeness of late respondents to non-respondents. So as questionnaires were received, dates were recorded. After data collection ended, a t-test was used to compare early and late respondents on positive events, negative events, and all events to determine if they were different. Results revealed no statistically significant difference between early and late respondents. With the assumption that late respondents are more typical of non-respondents, generalizing from respondents to the population was warranted.Findings
In order to determine the effect of gender and years of teaching experience on explanatory style of vocational teachers, means, standard deviations, t-tests, and the planned comparisons approach were used.Gender
Based on mean scores that ranged from 2.46 to 15.55 (see table 1), both males and females had an optimistic explanatory style. A t-test revealed no statistically significant differences between males and females on positive events, negative events, and all events. Therefore, it appears that male and female vocational teachers have similar explanatory styles toward negative events, good events, and all events.TABLE 1
Composite Scores of Explanatory Style based on Gender and Years of Teaching Experience
Teachers varied in their years of teaching experience. Three teachers reported 1 year of experience while another reported 35 years of teaching experience. In order to understand better the effect of teachers in various stages of their careers, teachers were sub-grouped according to number of years of teaching experience. This grouping yielded the following categories of teachers: 1-10, 11-20, 21 and over. On the Certified Personnel Data section of the Georgia Public Education Report Card, teachers are grouped in ten-year increments for years of experience ( Georgia Department of Education, 1998 ). Teachers in this study were divided accordingly to stay with this categorization. In our study, there were only four participants with more than 30 years of teaching experience, therefore, they were included in the 21 and over group of teachers.
On years of teaching experience, frequencies were disproportionately distributed among three groups (see table 1). The years, 11-20 received the highest number of tallies while the second highest category was 1-10 years. The lowest count was reported for the 21 years and over period.
The planned comparisons approach was used to determine if teacher groups were different on years of teaching experience and positive events (CoPos), negative events (CoNeg), and all events (CPCN). Rather than testing whether several populations have identical means, the planned comparisons approach determines whether one population mean differs from a second population mean or whether the mean of one set of populations differ from the mean of a different set of populations ( Olejnik & Hess, 1997 ). Analysis indicated no significant difference in positive events and any teacher group. However, a significant difference was noted on negative events ( M = 12.93, SD = 2.5), t (132) = 2.04, p = .04) and all events ( M = 2.60, SD = 2.5), t (127) = -2.19, p = .03). The significant difference occurred on negative events (CoNeg) and all events (CPCN) between teachers who had taught 11 to 20 years and teachers who had taught 21 or more years. Teachers who had taught 11 to 20 years viewed negative events and all events more positively than teachers in the more experienced group.
Discussion and Implications
Three major findings emerged from our study. First, teachers in our study, regardless of gender, had an optimistic explanatory style. An optimistic explanatory style is characterized by attributing negative events to external (someone else), unstable (short-lived), and specific (not pervasive) causes rather than internal, stable, and global causes.
Second, gender had no significant effect on explanatory style as indicated by means on positive events (CoPos), negative events (CoNeg), and all events (CPCN). That is, males and females were alike in regard to pessimism and optimism. Our results are congruent with findings from studies conducted by Bunce and Peterson ( 1997 ) and Greenberger and McLaughlin ( 1998 ) who found no mean differences between males and females for either positive events or negative events. However, our findings differed from Nolen-Hoeksema et al., ( 1991 ) who found that boys showed a more maladaptive (negative) explanatory style than girls. Our findings also varied from Malinchoc et al., ( 1996 ) who found girls exhibited a more pessimism explanatory style than boys.
Third, teachers were different with respect to years of teaching experience on negative events and all events. Teachers with 11 to 20 years of teaching experience were more optimistic toward negative events and all events than teachers with 21 or more years of teaching experience. This result did not support the findings of others ( Burns & Seligman, 1989 ; Seligman & Elder, 1986 ) who determined that explanatory style for negative events seem to be stable across life span; individuals who were pessimistic about negative events were pessimistic throughout their lifetime.
According to the explanatory style thesis, the difference between an optimist and a pessimist will determine how difficult situations are handled. The task of implementing, evaluating, and revising work-based programs and other legislative mandates such as The Carl D. Perkins Vocational-Technical Education Act of 1998 and the School-to-Work Opportunities Act of 1994 can be challenging and demanding. However, based on the results of this study, secondary vocational teachers in Georgia, regardless of gender, are optimistic and will view new initiatives as a challenge rather than a threat. We believe that these teachers will adjust well to change and are inclined to try new programs and change curricular to meet the demands of legislation and the workforce.
Concerning the difference in teachers based on years of teaching experience, we hypothesis that after 10 years of teaching, teachers have matured in their careers and will embrace change more readily. We propose that after so many years in the profession, these teachers have experienced some systematic educational reforms and are more positive and accepting of such changes. These teachers also feel less discomfort in implementing change. We also theorize that during this point in a person’s career, one is most enthusiastic, initiating, and ambitious about the profession. However, after 20 or more years of teaching, some educators are grounded in their beliefs and feel threatened by change. Based on the results of this study, we strongly recommend that teachers who have more than 10, but less than 21 years of teaching experience be pursued to initiate new programs and take a leadership role in implementing curricular changes.
Generally, in an educational environment where greater attention is given to required courses and preparation for post-high school education rather than vocational programs, these findings should support and enhance the discussion and decision making process concerning curricular changes and new mandated programs. Specifically, the optimistic disposition of vocational teachers ensures the likelihood of new programs experiencing some degree of success. Additionally, the potential for students in these work-based programs being more successful in making the transition from school to work is increased; this is achieved through modeling of behavior by vocational teachers who are optimistic.
Based on the results of this study, it is anticipated that vocational teachers will approach challenges presented by changing conditions in education in general and in vocational education specifically, optimistically.
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BETTYE P. SMITH is Assistant Professor, Dept. of Occupational Studies, The University of Georgia, 221 River’s Crossing, 850 College Station Rd., Athens, GA 30602. [E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org ] Her research interests include family and consumer education.
HELEN C. HALL is Professor, Dept. of Occupational Studies, The University of Georgia, 221 River’s Crossing, 850 College Station Rd., Athens, GA 30602. [E-mail: email@example.com ] Her research interests include Family and Consumer Sciences, Vocational Teacher Education, and Leadership Development.
CONSTANCE WOOLCOCK-HENRY, Ed.D., is a recent doctoral graduate in the Dept. of Occupational Studies, The University of Georgia, 221 River’s Crossing, 850 College Station Rd., Athens, GA 30602.
[E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org ] Her research interests include technology and at-risk students.