shows that teachers and schools play an important role in helping students survive a
teacher knows what it is like to see a student trying to cope with poverty, emotional
neglect or abuse. These children run the risk of developing serious and enduring problems
that perpetuate a cycle of poverty, underachievement and anti-social behaviour.
not all children are defeated by such circumstances. Researchers are increasingly looking
at the phenomenon of resilience, through which many disadvantaged children develop healthy
relationships and productive lives.
of the studies that have followed children throughout their lives have estimated that as
many as half to two-thirds of abused or neglected children show evidence of a resilient
response. A common theme running through much of this research is the role played by
caring adults sometimes just one caring adult, and often a teacher.
Werner, a professor of human development and a research child psychologist at the
University of California, conducted an extensive study on the island of Kauai in Hawaii
that followed the progress of disadvantaged children for almost two decades. Werner found
that all the high-risk children of the study people she termed "vulnerable,
but invincible" had at least one caring and supportive teacher. According to
Werner, the teachers "listened to the children, challenged them, and rooted for
them." Werner also described how resilient children often made their school "a
home away from home."
resiliency researchers have also found that although anyone can be in a caring and
supportive role for a child, the most commonly identified source of non-parental support
is a teacher. As research on resilience has expanded to encompass other cultures and
experiences, such as the effects of war, the evidence suggests that the protective factors
work across cultural, geographic and economic boundaries an important factor in
Ontarios multicultural schools.
BAD SCHOOLS A RISK
Durlak, a researcher in the department of psychology at Loyola University in Chicago,
carried out a review in 1998 of 1,200 studies related to childhood adjustment to develop a
body of risk and protective factors that affect children during their development.
Although the resultant list of risk factors covers a range of situations, there is clear
evidence that teachers are among those who often play a pivotal role in young
Durlaks study, it wasnt individual characteristics such as low IQ, low
motivation or ineffectual study skills that caused negative results for students, but bad
schools. Schools with uncaring teachers, an uninteresting curriculum, poor co-operation
between the school and the parents and little expectation that the students would do well
were a major factor in producing low academic achievement, behavioural problems and other
life-changing factors such as pregnancy, drug use and AIDS. This underscored Durlaks
belief that where schools do offer adequate levels of support and guidance, even students
affected by negative individual factors can do well.
GOOD SCHOOLS PROTECT
group of researchers, led by child psychiatrist Michael Rutter at the Institute of
Psychiatry in London, were interested in why student behaviour and levels of
accomplishment varied so much from school to school. Their studies found that successful
schools were the opposite of Durlaks "bad schools" teachers set
high standards of behaviour, made it clear they had expectations that the students would
do well, and that they had faith in the students ability to do well.
also benefited from praise and rose to the challenge when teachers gave them additional
responsibilities. Even children who were experiencing considerable deprivation at home did
well if they attended high quality schools. All these factors bear out the results of
other research that shows people often behave in ways that fulfil the expectations of
value of giving students extra responsibility has been shown in other studies in a
slightly different context. Children who are required to look after younger siblings or
take over tasks usually done by an adult what one researcher termed "required
helpfulness" often show signs of resilience. They appear to draw strength from
being needed and being able to cope successfully in a difficult situation.
in light of such research, some may question the power of teachers to have a significant
and enduring impact on young peoples lives given increasing class sizes and a
reduction in the amount of one-to-one contact between teachers and students.
the research overall seems to have found that the only true requirement for being an
effective and positive influence on a young person is genuine concern for the childs
well-being. Its not the amount of time a teacher can spend with a student but the
sense of stability and commitment that an adult communicates to a child during the time
they are together.
demonstrates that many people from disadvantaged backgrounds tend to make poor choices
even after their circumstances improve. Teachers can play a key role in such a situation,
since decisions related to education are of particular importance in terms of career and
financial success. Teachers are in an ideal situation to provide guidance in what is a
crucial aspect of life planning.