Educators' experience of interactions with adolescents who display problem behaviour from an emotional intelligence perspective
Educators experience numerous daily challenges in the classroom, including learner problem behaviour. Within the classroom, problem behaviour is defined as any behaviour that interferes in the flow of the lesson. How educators experience problem behaviour, and how they manage interactions with learners who display problem behaviour in the classroom, impact on both educator and learner functioning. Difficulties in managing learner problem behaviour are viewed as a contributing cause of educator burnout, as well as educators leaving the field. Adolescent problem behaviour is particularly difficult for educators, as adolescence is often characterised by risk-taking behaviour and testing social boundaries, which may negatively affect both educator functioning and adolescent scholastic development. The importance of supporting educators to function effectively, including dealing with adolescent problem behaviour efficiently, should not be understated, as it impacts on both educator and adolescent well-being. With this in mind, this study aimed to explore educators’ experience of interactions with adolescents who display problem behaviour in the classroom, interpreted from the perspective of emotional intelligence, with the aim of identifying educator EI skills during interactions. Emotional intelligence (EI), as a sub-field of positive psychology, was used as the theoretical framework for this study, and was also utilised to identify possible effectively and low-functioning EI skills used by educators during interactions with adolescents who display problem behaviour. The literature study included background on educators’ experience of learner problem behaviour, details on the theoretical framework of the study, and on adolescence and adolescent development. This qualitative study used a descriptive and explorative design, gathering data from three high schools in the southern suburbs of the City of Cape Town. Educators (27) of both genders participated in the study by completing structured interview sheets, or participating in a focus group discussion and/or personal, in-depth interview. The educators were all adequately qualified, teaching grades 8/9 at the time of the study, were from varying cultural and socio-economic backgrounds, and had been teaching adolescents for more than one year. The structured interview, focus group discussion and personal interview questions were directed by one main question, namely: “How do you experience interactions with adolescents who display problem behaviour in the classroom?” Additional probing questions were also utilized. A generic version of thematic analysis was applied using both inductive and deductive methods of data analysis. From the inductive analysis, the following main themes emerged, contributing towards understanding the experiences of the educators’ interactions with adolescents who display problem behaviour: educators experience interactions as excessively disruptive of teaching and intense negative feelings during interactions in the classroom, which can negatively affect teaching. They also experience awareness of their own influence on interactions, which consequently influences the choice of strategy used to deal with adolescent problem behaviour. Feelings of inadequacy due to lack of insight into contextual background of the adolescents, reducing ability to provide adequate support for adolescents, were also found to be prominent. Secondary, deductive analysis was conducted using the EI model of Bar-On (2006; 2011) to investigate and interpret educator interactions with adolescents. The aim was to identify effectively or low-functioning educator EI skills used by the educators in the interactions. Flexibility, problem solving, impulse control, emotional self-awareness, reality testing, empathy and interpersonal relationship skills were identified as effectively functioning educator EI skills. Possible low-functioning EI skills were also identified: problem solving, emotional self-awareness, stress tolerance, impulse control, flexibility and self-regard. Understanding how educators experience interactions with adolescents who display problem behaviour, is the first step in the direction of effective management thereof. Findings of this study are considered in the light of international and South African research and found mostly to concur with this literature, in that educators experience problem behaviour as a serious difficulty in the classroom, especially behaviour that disrupts teaching and learning. The findings on effective use of educator EI skills are also significant, as EI has globally become an influential field within education and psychology regarding the enhancement of individuals’F personal and professional functioning. In light of findings, and seeing as literature indicates that EI skills can in fact be learnt and developed, future studies on educator functioning using EI, including the management of adolescent problem behaviour, are recommended. Further recommendations include strengthening and supporting low-functioning EI skills of educators, and including EI in educator training and development programs. Considering the importance of the classroom environment for healthy educator and adolescent functioning, supporting educators in effective management of adolescent problem behaviour in the classroom is essential, and can ultimately have positive effects on the scholastic experience of both educators and adolescents.
- Humanities