Child’s bond with first teacher plays pivotal role; relationship has lasting effect on engagement, peer acceptance

A child’s early bond with a parent or caregiver is a critical factor in the child’s future success and well-being. In education, a child’s bond with a first teacher is increasingly viewed as another critical relationship, one that may have enormous implications for the child’s success in school and beyond, especially for those children from high risk backgrounds.

Previous research indicates early teacher-child relationships affect children’s interpersonal behaviors, feelings of efficacy, school adjustment, peer acceptance, school liking or avoidance, school outcomes, etc. Two new studies in the Journal of School Psychology add to the body or research on early relationships between teachers and new students.

One study looks at the effect a positive child-teacher relationship has on peer acceptance in first- and second-graders and the other study of kindergarten students looks at what characteristics of the child or the classroom are associated with negative or conflictual childteacher relationships.

“It is well-established that a positive teacher student relationship is a developmental asset for children from preschool to high school,” says the study on child-teacher relationships and peer acceptance in first and second grade.

Effect on peer acceptance

Peer acceptance appears to be one of many benefits of a student’s positive relationship with teachers in the early grades. In the study of first- and second-graders, researchers examine why a teacher’s relationship with a child has this effect on peer acceptance. Do teachers and peers feel similarly about a student because of the student’s personal characteristics, or are there other factors at work?

The researchers analyzed data on 360 first-grade children (52.2% male) in three school districts in southeast and central Texas. The students were ethnically diverse, academically at-risk and spread across 115 classrooms in the region. The data included measures of teacher-student support (Teacher Relationship Inventory), classroom engagement (10 items from the Conscientious and Social Competence scales of the Big Five Inventory), teacher ratings of conduct problems (Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire for psychopathology) and peer sociometric scores.

The researchers not only examined peer acceptance in grade 1, but also in the following year. One explanation that has been proposed for the link between teacher support and peer acceptance is that children use “information about teacher-student interactions in forming opinions about a classmate.” Because the effect of a positive child teacher relationship on peer acceptance persisted in second grade, when the first grade teacher was no longer present, researchers concluded that a better explanation is that the children continue to enjoy peer acceptance because they are more engaged in school.

“Teacher support may be especially important to children’s engagement in the early grades, when children are coping with novel situations and when their independent coping skills are developing,” the article notes. A secure relationship with the teacher may serve as a resource that permits young students to cope more effectively with novel academic and social demands.”

Children see teacher-student interactions

The researchers add that teacher student support, child engagement in school and peer acceptance reinforce one another. “For example, children who are dispositionally conscientious, positive, and well regulated are likely to be regarded by teachers as engaged and to elicit supportive responses from teachers and peers,” the article concludes.

“Unlike other studies that have examined
associations between teacher support, peer acceptance, and classroom engagement,” the researchers note, “this study used different sources (first grade teacher, next year’s teacher, next year’s classmates) to assess these constructs.”

Conflictual relationships

Another researcher from Purdue University examined this issue from a different perspective, focusing on negative or conflictual student teacher relationships in kindergarten as reported by the child. The goal was to determine what if any child and classroom characteristics were associated with these conflictual relationships.

“Children with early behavior problems and early (kindergarten) teacher reported relational conflict seem to run a higher risk for long term behavioral maladjustment,” the article states.

The researcher analyzed data on 103 economically disadvantaged children and their kindergarten teachers in 24 public schools. Data was collected on children’s perception of teacher child conflict, appraisals of teacher support, academic achievement and teacher ratings of problem behaviors.

The researcher also collected data on: teacher instructional practices, classroom and school practices to ease the transition to school, available of support services, classroom and school relational environment and teachers’ perceptions of workload stress.

Sex of child not significant factor

In this study, sex was not significantly related to teacher child conflict, but children with higher ratings on a hyperactivity index (Conners’ Teacher Rating Scale) tended to report higher levels of conflict Children with better school achievement were less likely to report conflict.

Among classroom variables, teacher instructional practices was associated with child reports of conflict. “Children were likely to report more relational conflict when their teachers relied on traditional instructional practices (as opposed to more flexible, developmentally appropriate practices),” the article states.

Children tended to report higher levels of conflict when instructional practices emphasized rote learning, teaching of isolated skills, were teacher directed, relied less on individualization and positive disciplinary strategies and used normative comparisons in evaluating children.

Other variables associated with teacherchild conflict in this study were teachers’ perceptions of workload stress and the classroom/school relational climate. Achievement correlated significantly with teacher reports of the relational climate of the school (i.e. positive interactions among teachers and children and with parents and community participants).

Teacher-child conflict was also lower when teachers reported the availability of transition activities meant to facilitate transition from preschool to kindergarten (i.e. curriculum planning with preschool teachers, school visits for children and parents, providing info about school expectations and parent rights).

“Conflictual relationships between kindergarten children and their teachers: Associations with child and classroom variables” Journal of School Psychology Volume 43,Number 5,November 2005 pp. 425 442;”Classroom engagement mediates the effect of teacher-student support on elementary students’peer acceptance: A prospective analysis” Journal of School Psychology Volume 43, Number 6, January 2006 pp. 465 480.

Published in ERN February 2006 Volume 19 Number 2

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