Bullying: Elementary Teachers' Attitudes and Intervention Strategies

Article excerpt

The study examined teachers' perceptions of three types of bullying (physical, verbal, and social exclusion). Participants were ninety-four teachers enrolled in graduate classes at a US state university. The survey comprised six bullying scenarios followed by questions about teachers' attitudes, including seriousness, empathy for victims, and likelihood of intervention, and about teachers' intervention strategies. Results indicated that teachers have different attitudes to the three types of bullying and use different intervention strategies. Compared with verbal and physical bullying, social exclusion was viewed less seriously and was less likely to lead to immediate intervention. Implications for prevention and teacher training are discussed in the light of these results.

Key words Bullying intervention, Social exclusion, Teacher attitudes, Subtypes of bullying, Victimisation.

Research has consistently documented that bullying behaviours are associated with serious short- and long-term outcomes for both victims and perpetrators. For example, Craig (1998) found that repeatedly victimised children are more likely to report internalising problems such as anxiety and depression. Bullying is also associated with peer rejection, early school dropout, involvement in crime, and adult psychopathology (Crick, 1.995; Parker and Asher, 1987).

Aggression and bullying in schools have become major concerns for educators. Classroom teachers face challenges to deal with a perpetrator and a victim, which means less time devoted to class work and instruction. Owing to the negative outcomes associated with bullying and victimisation, psychological and educational research continues to search for effective ways to address bullying behaviours. Proactive school-wide programmes have been proposed to prevent bullying behaviours (Olweus, 1991; Pepler et al., 1994; Smith and Sharp, 1994). These programmes are designed to promote systematic changes in school culture against bullying behaviours or school violence. The systematic approach reflects current conceptualisation of bullying as 'an interaction that occurs between an individual bully and a victim and unfolds within a social ecological context' (Atlas and Pepler, 1998, p. 86). However, less attention has been given to individual teachers' responses to bullying behaviours. Given that teachers are the individuals most likely to handle a bullying incident (Smith and Sharp, 1994; Smith and Thompson, 1991), they play an important role in creating a positive school climate. Teachers' responses should be carefully examined and teachers' roles also should be considered in prevention and intervention of bullying behaviours.

Teachers' responses to bullying behaviours may influence future behaviours of both victims and perpetrators. Huesmann and Eron (1984) explain that bullying behaviours are reinforced when a bully successfully dominates a victim and does not experience negative consequences (i.e. punishments). That is, unless appropriate consequences are consistently and immediately given after each bullying episode, bullying behaviours have a greater chance of recurring in the future, especially when there is continuing success in exerting control over a victim. However, teacher reports indicate that bullies often go without punishment for their behaviour, thus reinforcing the bullying behaviours. More alarming is a recent study that suggests teachers and other school staff model bullying behaviours (Song and Swearer, 2002).

Furthermore, evidence suggests a discrepancy between teachers' and students' reports of intervention with respect to bullying. According to Pepler et al. (1994), 85 per cent of teachers reported intervening 'always' or 'often' to stop bullying. However, only 35 per cent of students reported that teachers intervened in bullying. This discrepancy leads to the important question of how teachers perceive and respond to bullying incidents.

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