The Influence of Teachers

In 2010, Utah Women and Education Project researchers conducted in-depth research to discover why more young women around the state are not attending and graduating from college. The full set of results was published in a series of 12 research snapshots, which you can find on the Utah Women and Leadership website. In this blog, we look at the influence teachers have on young women attending college.

The Influence of Teachers

The level of academic encouragement and support that students received from their teachers while in middle and high school impacts their decision to attend and complete college. This is often an important precursor to successfully attending college.

Not surprisingly, almost 90% of the young women participating in our survey believed that they received at least some level of support from their teachers in their high school scholastic efforts. A small minority (6%) felt they did not receive any support at all. The participants also provided in-depth responses (insights and examples) regarding the influence of teachers specifically on their college decisions.

Surprisingly, approximately 35% of the women in this study said their teachers had no influence on them, and many participants said they did not remember having even one middle or high school teacher talk to them personally about college or even mention it to a class of students. Slightly over 11% stated that teachers had “some” influence on their decision because they talked about college occasionally in class although not to them personally. Those who described “moderate” or “adequate” influence (14%) heard information in class from time to time and also had a teacher or two talk to them briefly (one-on-one) about college. Approximately 36% said their teachers were “strong” and “very strong” influences on them. These teachers had a profound impact, and participants who had these teachers were more likely to attend and graduate from college.

  • Young women who had influential teachers were significantly more likely to attend and graduate from college.
  • Participants stated that teachers who took the time to interact with them increased their confidence and motivation to do well in school.
  • Participants who did not attend college often felt they were labeled early in school as not being on the “college-track.” Some mentioned they heard teachers talking to others about college but felt teachers did not talk to them because of this label. Many now wish teachers would have encouraged them.

Participant Demographics

  • 245 females; 18-32 year-olds
  • 89.9% White
  • 80.4% LDS
  • 44.1% married
  • 16 counties, 56.2% from Salt Lake and Utah counties

Participant Quotes

“I did have one teacher when I was in the tenth grade who told me that I was a good writer and that I should go to college to pursue it. I would have to say out of any of the high school teachers I met, he was the only one that ever gave me hope that I could do what I wanted with my life.”

“The most influential person at school for me was a teacher I had. He told me that I could go to any college I wanted, and they would be lucky to have me. He really motivated me to do well in school and reach for my potential.”

“I didn’t really have anyone talk to me about college except one teacher.”

“The worst part of high school was when I had more than one teacher tell me that I would never go anywhere in life, never amount to anything and never succeed. I know they say “sticks and stones will break your bones but words will never hurt you”; well, they do, and they totally hurt me. It took a while to shake off those hurtful things that were said to me, but I powered through everything and then ended up getting super good grades my junior and senior year.”

The text of this blog was excerpted from a February 2011 research snapshot authored by Dr. Susan R. Madsen titled, “The Influence of Teachers on a Young Woman’s College Decision.” (Please see the entire brief for more information on research context.)

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