The relationship between teacher personality and teacher quality: lifting a tip of a veil of a teacher’s X-factor?

Svenja Buttner, Sip Jan Pijl

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The ideology of inclusive education signifies that every child should be able to attend a regular school, unless there are insoluble barriers which make this impossible. This principle is voiced in treaties such as the Salamanca Statement and the No Child Left Behind Act. Accordingly, many countries nowadays aim at integrating students with special educational needs (SEN) in mainstream education.

A specific challenge for teachers who apply for inclusive education is teaching students who show challenging behaviour in the classroom1. A growing number of teachers report feelings of professional inadequacy in teaching students with behavioural difficulties.

Feelings of professional inadequacy are said to occur when a teacher lacks pedagogic and/or didactic skills to act adequately in demanding classroom situations.

Teachers of students with behavioural difficulties are found to be particularly at risk for experiencing occupational stress. Moreover, these teachers are more likely to end their career in education earlier than teachers who are teaching students with other SEN or without. Many teachers of students with behavioural difficulties tend to pay too much attention to controlling student behaviour rather than to teaching.

At the same time, in this respect, students with behavioural difficulties are a population at risk as well. Regardless of the underlying cause of their behavioural problems, students with behavioural difficulties gain less academic progress than students who go through a normal development. Strikingly, this academic delay appears to increase rapidly over the years.

For all the feelings of professional inadequacy, there are also teachers who are somehow able to bring out the best in all their students. These teachers are able to engage students, meet their differing needs and increase their potential. These teachers are commonly said to be equipped with a teacher’s X-factor; an enigmatic, yet unexplained talent causing a teacher’s excellence in the classroom.

A widely accepted key determinant of successful schooling is teacher quality. Accordingly, the competencies of expert teachers have already been studied in detail. However, recent evidence points at personality as an underlying core factor from which these competencies may arise. In the literature, personality is defined as relatively enduring patterns of thoughts, feelings and behaviours.

Much literature has already been published on the relationship between personality and job performance. Virtually all studies on the subject report strong correlations between the Five-Factor Model of Personality and job performance. However, until recently, these relations were not explored in the field of education. A first study of this kind was conducted by the authors. The results of this study were presented at last year’s ECER in Istanbul.

The personality dimensions of Conscientiousness (facets of competence, self-discipline, ambition) and Neuroticism (facets of depression, vulnerability, shame) were found to discriminate expert teachers from non-experts. Furthermore, significant relationships were found between teacher personality and teacher quality in teaching students with behavioural difficulties for Conscientiousness, Neuroticism and Extraversion (assertiveness).

With the aim of contributing to finding ways to accurately recruit expert teachers of students with behavioural difficulties, a cohort of in-service teacher-trainees was studied on their personality and performance in teaching students with behavioural difficulties. The authors wondered whether the relationships found in the previous study could be established or replicated in teacher education?
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages4
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2014
EventEuropean Conference on Educational Research (ECER) 2014: The Past, Present and Future of Educational Research in Europe - Faculdade de Engenharia da Universidade do Porto, Porto, Portugal
Duration: 2 Sept 20146 Sept 2014


ConferenceEuropean Conference on Educational Research (ECER) 2014
Abbreviated titleECER 2014
Internet address


  • inclusive education
  • behavioural problems


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