Nurturing Their Students: Primary Level Teachers' Perceptions

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Curriculum, Instruction, and Special Education

First Advisor

Renee Falconer

Advisor Department

Curriculum, Instruction, and Special Education


The purpose of this qualitative study was to examine four primary level teachers' perceptions of their lived experiences of nurturing their students. The primary teachers taught in two schools located in a rural area of a southern state. Using a phenomenological framework (Lancy, 1993), the research was undertaken to reveal the teachers' definitions of nurturing, the teachers' understandings of their nurturing behaviors, and the teachers' beliefs of how they learned to nurture students. Data collection consisted of formal and informal interviews with the teachers. Supplementing the interviews were data collected from observations of the teachers in their classrooms and documents provided by the teachers. Interview data were analyzed using the three tiered process of phenomenological reflection suggested by Van Manen (1990). Analysis yielded two major and three minor themes. The first major theme, physical and emotional availability, was supported by the subthemes of building personal relationships, care, trust, mothering, physical closeness, and time. The second major theme, responsibility for student success, was supported by the subthemes of expectations, students' self-esteem, and whatever the child needs. The three minor themes were absence of nurturing, student response, and learning to nurture. From the analysis of the data, descriptions of the teachers' individual understandings of nurturing and an overall description of the teachers' understandings of nurturing were generated. Findings of the data analysis indicated that the teachers understood their nurturing to consist of attitudes, emotions, and actions that they often associated with mothering. By being physically and emotionally available to develop caring relationships with their students, the teachers believed they could provide emotional and academic support that would help their students succeed in their classrooms and in life. The teachers believed that nurturing was part of their innate personality and that they had learned nurturing behaviors as they observed those around them, particularly during their childhood. Recommendations for further research included an extension of the present study by including participants whose cultures and background experiences differ from that of their students and each other. Additionally, research exploring male primary teachers' understandings of nurturing was recommended.