Dimitrios Thanasoulas: "The Classroom: Forum or Arena?"


2.On "authority"

Clearly linked to the problems that vitiate the benefit which would, in an ideal world, accrue to those who actively engage in educational programs, methods and techniques, is inescapably the controversial issue of teacher authority. As a matter of fact, "authority" has been endowed with various meanings yet remains elusive of any definition whatsoever. Some people associate it with the teacher's elevated cognitive, intellectual and social status and his / her concomitant primacy over the students, while others tend to connect it with such an unnerving feeling as arrogance and a supercilious observance of rules and norms that are laid down by the teacher her / himself■and the institution within which he / she is authorized to teach■and must be taken at face value. It is with both connotations that we will be concerned.

2.1. The teacher's authority and its effects

There has always been a tendency, on the part of the teacher, to claim superiority over his or her students and, consequently, to lose sight of his or her role in class. The teacher who evinces these characteristics keeps on blaming the students for their aberrant behaviour and "unsatisfactory" performance; he hardly ever bothers to make a probe of the students' cognitive, emotional and psychological background. He is an arrogant automaton who asserts his authority over his socially unauthorized, impotent and inferior students in a most undemocratic, uncivilized way; an "educated" person who supposedly strives to inculcate values and ideals but who is "conspicuous by her absence" when it comes to fostering feeling and creative thinking. No doubt, the teacher is conditioned to function __ or rather malfunction __ in this way but let us not become waylaid by further details as to the causes. What could extenuate such behaviour, in any case?

This arrogant, unapproachable figure, with his lofty ideas and pompous language, is as often as not a formidable barrier to language learning. Not only his personality and his intellectual and linguistic abilities but also such paralinguistic features as facial expressions and bodily position in the classroom may exert an immensely negative influence on the student's cognition and affect. Experiments have proved that four bodily positions of the teacher, i.e. left /right, front / back, elevated / non-elevated, and standing / seated, have each been associated with a certain degree of social dominance. For example, a teacher who, most of the time in class, is standing, elevated and occupies the foreground on the right side, is perceived to be dominant.

The data indicated that 75% of the time the elevated person was perceived as dominant and only 29% of the time the non-elevated person was considered so. Similarly 61% of the time the standing person was perceived as dominant (Schwartz, Tesser and Powel, 1981: 47, cited in Papaconstantinou, 1991: 64).

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AS/SA Nº 6/7, Article 3 : Page 2 / 10

© 1999, AS/SA

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