Scholars generally agree that family socioeconomic status significantly influences student engagement and motivation in school learning. Yet, teachers are key adults who play an equally important role in determining student experiences through daily interactions in the classroom. This study asks how family and teachers together shape student motivation to learn. Using data from the China Education Panel Survey (CEPS), we examine the roles of teachers vis-a-vis parents in fostering students’ motivation to learn Math, Chinese, and English subjects. We find that both family background and student-teacher interactions are related to students’ learning motivation. However, student-teacher interactions fully mediate the association of family background and student motivation to learn Math and Chinese, whereas student interest in learning English remains independently related to family background. Importantly, we show that students with strong learning motivation have high academic performance. Our findings reveal a hidden mechanism of the reproduction of class inequality through the school system and suggest that not only parents but teachers also play a nontrivial role in shaping educational inequality. We discuss the implications of our findings on educational stratification in Chinese society.
The Journal of Chinese Sociology, Vol.5, No.1, pp.19-35