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Teachers Need Emotional Support to Manage Chaotic Classrooms
January 19, 2017
By Dave DeFusco

Priority must be placed on preparing teachers emotionally to deal with chaotic classroom environments, assert researchers at the Johns Hopkins School of Education and Ohio State University. 

Although teachers are key contributors to children’s social-emotional development, according to their article in the Journal of School Psychology, “they often report that they feel stressed and overwhelmed when they deal with children’s negative emotions and challenging behaviors.”

Lieny Jeon

Young children’s social-emotional development is critical for school readiness. In early care and education settings, teachers set the tone for social and emotional learning environments.

The study, co-authored by Lieny Jeon, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Education, examined the role of teachers’ emotional abilities and classroom environments in how teachers responded to children’s negative emotions and disruptive behavior. They call for a better support system for teachers to deal with their students’ emotional displays. 

“Since teaching is an intensive psychological process,” said Jeon, “undue stress may limit the ability of teachers to interact with children in a positive way or even prompt the expression of negative emotions toward children.”

The other co-authors of the article, “Child-care Chaos and Teachers’ Responsiveness: The Indirect Associations Through Teachers’ Emotion Regulation and Coping,” which appeared in the September 2016 edition of the journal, are Eun Hye Hur, a postdoctoral researcher in the Human Development and Family Science Program, and Cynthia Buettner, associate professor in the College of Education and Human Ecology, both of Ohio State.

The study is the first to examine the associations between teachers’ perceptions of environmental chaos and their self-reported responsiveness to children in early-childcare settings. They found there are direct associations between child-care chaos and the unsupportive reactions of teachers toward children’s outbursts.

In chaotic child-care environments, teachers may experience higher levels of stress and burnout, which interfere with their ability to positively respond to children.

“This study adds to the growing literature on environmental chaos and the adults who care for children both at home and in child care and education settings,” said Jeon. “We suggest a new approach to improve the quality of teachers in early childhood education through intervening in child-care chaos, teachers’ emotional regulation and coping skills.”

The researchers sampled 1,129 teachers working with preschoolers in child-care centers or public pre-K programs across the United States. A total of 346 teachers were from public pre-K programs (30.7 percent); 65.7 percent were from nonprofit programs; 10.2 percent from Head Start programs; and 31.1 percent from nationally accredited programs.

When teachers feel they are in a chaotic environment beyond their control, it may arouse unpleasant emotions that hamper their ability to evaluate and change unruly situations and to generate behavioral strategies to solve the problems.

According to the researchers, teachers who have problem-focused coping skills may be better at role modeling and guiding practical problem-solving skills for children.

“Teachers who struggle with guiding and encouraging children’s expressiveness in challenging situations often are themselves less capable of expressing their own emotions,” said Jeon.