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The Struggle is Real: An Investigation of Preschool Teachers’ Perceptions of Students’ Challenging Behaviors Through Reflective Writing

Abstract

Teaching is one of the most stressful occupations, often due to the emotional investment of managing and caring for a classroom of students. In addition to environmental stressors, teacher wellbeing is impacted by relationships with students. While the relation between challenging student behaviors and adverse outcomes for both teachers and students is well-established, less is known about teachers’ mental representations and perceptions of challenging behaviors. This study examines preschool teachers’ perceptions and interpretations of challenging student behaviors through a reflective writing exercise. Eight Head Start teachers provided reflections on their relationship with a specific student displaying challenging behavior. Through content analysis, we found four distinct themes: balance, malleability, valence, and relational flexibility. Taken together, these themes suggest that, while all teachers’ mental representations of their relationship with students are impacted by the challenging behavior, their perceptions of the types of behaviors identified as challenging, the attribution of the challenging behavior, the tone used to describe the relationship, and the beliefs around sources of and solutions for the challenging behavior, vary considerably. By gaining a deeper understanding of teachers’ perceptions of their relationships with students displaying challenging behaviors through reflective writing, these findings provide the groundwork for interventions capable of improving overall classroom interaction quality, teacher wellbeing, and student learning and development.

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Funding

The research leading to these results received funding from University Research Grants Committee of Clemson University, under Award No. NNCM574074.

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FMJ: Principal investigator of project, conducted recruitment and data collection. Contributed to conceptualization, data analysis, and manuscript writing. AE: Contributed to conceptualization, data analysis, manuscript writing, and draft revision. GM: Contributed material preparation, manuscript writing, and draft revision. ATS: Contributed material preparation, manuscript writing, and draft revision.

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Correspondence to Faiza M. Jamil.

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All research reported in this study was conducted with the approval of the Clemson University Institutional Review Board, under protocol number IRB2014-009.

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Jamil, F.M., Emerson, A., McKown, G. et al. The Struggle is Real: An Investigation of Preschool Teachers’ Perceptions of Students’ Challenging Behaviors Through Reflective Writing. Early Childhood Educ J (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10643-021-01267-1

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Keywords

  • Preschool teachers
  • Reflective writing
  • Challenging behaviors
  • Early childhood
  • Head Start