Defining Disrespect From Rural Teachers’ Perspective

By Diette Courrégé Casey — August 17, 2011 2 min read
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How do rural teachers define “disrespect,” and what implications does that have for training teachers to manage student behavior in their classrooms?

Answering that question was the aim of a study published in the summer issue of the Rural Special Education Quarterly, a product of the American Council on Rural Special Education. It doesn’t appear to be available online without a subscription.

The researchers conducted their study in a rural Ohio school district with five schools. Ninety percent of the students were white, and 51 percent were low-income. A total of 120 teachers participated in the study, which was done as part of a larger training on the Positive Behavior Interventions and Support program that teaches students how to act at school.

The study found 17 behavioral themes in the teachers’ description of “disrespect.” The five most prominent were:

• not following directions, • talking back, • interrupting adults, • inappropriate language towards peers, and • inappropriate language toward adults.

The researchers said these behaviors needed to be further defined so evidenced-based interventions can be provided to teachers, particularly in teacher-preparation programs. For example, when a student disrespects a teacher by refusing to complete a task, what steps should that teacher take?

Teachers might feel unprepared to manage their classrooms because of insufficient training, and more professional development would better equip them to address challenging behaviors, according to the study.

The study also notes how the term “disrespect” can differ depending on setting, experience, training, and geography, and researchers recommended further research to examine the issue in varying locales, regions, and cultures.

“Defining Disrespect: A Rural Teachers’ Perspective” was written by four researchers: Eric Landers of Georgia Southern University, Kathryn L. Servilio of West Virginia University, Peter Alter of the University of Louisville, and Todd Haydon of the University of Cincinnati.

Some of the study’s limitations included its small sample size, as well as the over-representation of veteran teachers who were surveyed. Forty-eight percent of teachers surveyed had more than 20 years of classroom experience, so their definitions of disrespect might differ from teachers in the early stages of their careers. Finally, the study was conducted within a larger training initiative, and that could have affected teachers’ responses.

It would’ve been interesting for researchers to survey urban and inner-city educators to see how their definitions of disrespect differ from rural teachers. The researchers agreed, acknowledging that the definition of disrespect is not a concrete one across subjects, cultures, and time.

“The current study highlights the need to specifically define challenging behaviors from multiple populations so that effective interventions can be created that can be used universally (i.e., challenging behaviors addressed by almost all teachers), as well as locally (i.e., challenging behaviors addressed by certain regions or populations with similar characteristics),” they wrote.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Rural Education blog.