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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