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Teachers’ academic and behavioral expectations and girls’ pubertal development: Does the classroom learning environment matter?


Experiencing puberty earlier than one’s peers has been linked with behavioral and academic problems in school, particularly among girls. Previously, we reported that practicing elementary school teachers expect girls who develop early to have more academic and social problems in the future, with girls’ race exacerbating these effects (Carter et al. 2017). The present study extends this previous research by examining whether characteristics within classroom learning environments (i.e., Competition, Order and Organization, Innovation, and Rule Clarity) affect the extent to which teachers use girls’ race and pubertal timing as a basis for their expectations. Practicing elementary school teachers (N = 220; Mage = 43 years; 91% female; 84% White) were randomly shown behavioral vignettes in two conditions (academic, externalizing) with drawings of fourth-grade Black and White pubertal-age girls, and were asked to report their academic and social expectations of the girls shown in the vignettes. Findings highlight the nuanced ways that classroom environments, girls’ race, and pubertal timing influence educators’ expectations. For example, in the academic condition, teachers who were highly innovative and orderly in the classroom expected Black relative to White early-developing girls to have more problems acquiring and using information (i.e., academic problems); however, White late-developing girls were expected to have more problems acquiring and using information. Conversely, in the externalizing condition, teachers who were highly innovative and orderly in the classroom expected Black late-developing girls to have more problems interacting and relating to others (i.e., social problems). These results highlight the importance of a multifaceted approach to studying race, biological sex, and puberty-related effects in schools.

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Correspondence to Rona Carter.

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Carter, R., Mustafaa, F.N., Leath, S. et al. Teachers’ academic and behavioral expectations and girls’ pubertal development: Does the classroom learning environment matter?. Soc Psychol Educ 21, 973–1000 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11218-018-9450-1

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  • Pubertal timing
  • Race
  • Teachers’ expectations
  • Classroom behaviors
  • Classroom environment