Supportive Teachers Can Reduce Externalizing Behaviors in Students

The teacher-child relationship is a multifaceted one. Teachers act as educators and instructors. They are viewed by their students as mentors and role models. They also take on the role of confidant and counselor. For children with high levels of stress, teachers can be especially critical to well-being and academic success. Stress can result from numerous situations in a child’s life, including maltreatment, abuse, family divorce, neglect, or bullying, to name a few. Children who are under stress often have difficulty controlling their emotions and cope with externalizing or internalizing behaviors. This can manifest as risk taking, disruptive behavior, drug and alcohol use, or aggression. Those who internalize may experience symptoms like depression, anxiety, isolation, and withdrawal.

Because teachers have such an impact on the well-being of their students, Rebekah S. Huber of the University of Utah wanted to see how students’ perceptions of teacher support influenced their behavior, especially when the students were dealing with stress. Huber interviewed 103 adolescent students and asked them to report the perceived level of teacher support they received, other social support networks, stressful life events, and their overall behavior patterns. She found that the students with externalizing issues benefited the most from teacher support. This was interesting because even though the majority of students reported high levels of teacher support, those with internalizing problems did not realize benefits from this relationship.

Huber believes that children with externalizing behaviors are easier to identify than those with internalizing behaviors. Class disruptions, aggression, and risk taking can easily catch the attention of a teacher and therefore might prompt more action than less overt behaviors such as sadness, quietness, or withdrawal. Also, Huber recognizes that children with internalizing behaviors have more difficulty in social situations and might find it harder to create a bond with their teachers, putting them further away from the teacher’s focus and less likely to be seen as troubled or in need of help. Huber hopes that her research underscores the significance a teacher has on the life of their students. She believes educators could further help their students by learning how to recognize signs of distress and introducing them to ways in which to cope with that stress. She added, “If youth are able to cope successfully with stress from life events, they will be less likely to experience negative emotional and behavioral outcomes.”

Huber, Rebekah S., et al. (2013). Teacher support as a moderator of behavioral outcomes for youth exposed to stressful life events. Education Research International (2012) ProQuest Research Library. Web.

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  • caleb


    March 21st, 2013 at 3:54 AM

    We all have to remember, and especially those educators in the classroom, that we can be a huge influence in a kid’ life even when we don’t necessarily know it. Many of these kids are looking for a positive role model in their lives and what better place to find that for many of them then the classroom? For some kids school is the only stabilizing factor in their lives. This is where they learn a lot about who they are and for many this is the place where they can find that parental like guidance that they could quite possibly be missing out on at home. Some teachers might think that this is not what they signed on for, but I say that if you are in a classroom you have to be prepared to become all things for some children just because of the things that they are otherwise lacking outside of school. A teacher takes on many more roles today than perhaps in the past.



    March 21st, 2013 at 2:42 PM

    I faced problems at home with my parents often having arguments and much beyond that. That did effect me to an extent I think. I always wondered why my teacher didnt come forward to help. what I didnt realize is that I never told anybody I had a problem! now when I am looking at becoming a teacher myself I can see just how tough it can be-the child is not giving any cues, you have so many children to look after and so many tasks to complete. so are teachers really the ones that can provide support? or should they act more like identifiers and the support then be given by professional counselors at schools?

  • Frank


    March 25th, 2013 at 3:57 AM

    Why would someone even choose to be a teacher at all if he or she is not willing to be a student’s cheerleader?

    I have over the years heard those teachers who say this this isn’t their job, that their job is to teach the subject that they have been given and make sure that the students know the material.

    But it is about a whole lot more than that And if I think that I can make a difference for a child in a way that helps them control their behavior and become a better person overall, as well as better educated then I see that as a critical part of my job as an educator as well.

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