Category: Child / Adolescent - School-Related Issues
Research has established that student-teacher relationships (STRs) are associated with better academic, social, and mental health student outcomes including decreased risk of engaging in substance abuse, early sex, incarceration, and other risky behaviors (Hamre & Pianta, 2006; Resnick et al, 1997). For this reason, STRs might be especially important in student populations that are already at-risk for engaging in these types of antisocial behaviors. Furthermore, invididuals at-risk of engaging in these behaviors might also have difficulty garnering the support that can be found in a STR because of interpersonal and affective difficulties associated with psychopathy. Thus, it is important to understand relations between youth psychopathy and STRs in order to support teachers and students in establishing healthy relationships that can buffer against adverse student outcomes.
In this study, we sought to elucidate these relations in a clinical sample of male youth (n=25). Students were on average 10.32 (SD= 2.36) years old; 61% were Caucasian and 27% was African American. Most students had a diagnosis of a behavioral disorder (e.g., conduct disorder, oppositional defiance disorder), making them at-risk for the aforementioned adverse outcomes. We had two hypotheses: 1) Teacher- and student-reports of youth psychopathy traits would significantly differ, and 2) the STR would predict the endorsement of psychopathy traits in the teacher-reports. Teachers and students completed surveys to measure these variables.
Results of an independent samples T test indicated that the teacher- and student-reports were discrepant on several levels. There was a significant difference between reports of overall youth psychopathy traits between teachers (M=29.90, SD=9.30) and students (M=21.50, SD=12.12); t(45)=2.50, p=0.02. The uncaring scale was also significantly discrepant between the two reports with teachers reporting higher levels of these traits (M=15.18, SD=4.31) than students (M=7.96, SD=6.19); t(45)=4.58 , pF(2, 18)= 6.02, p=.01. Specifically, student-teacher closeness predicted lower levels of teacher-endorsed psychopathy traits (B=-.84, p=0.2) and student-teacher conflict predicted higher levels of teacher-endorsed psychopathy traits (B=.50, p=.05).
Results underscore the importance of assessing the STR in a population of students at-risk for poor interpersonal skills and risky behavior. It is important to recognize the role the STR plays in how the teacher perceives the child’s psychopathy traits; it could be that the child’s psychopathy traits and interpersonal deficits are contributing to difficulties in the STR, thus perpetuating a cycle of poor interactions. It could also be that the students with whom the teachers have a poorer relationship are treated differently in the classroom, resulting in poorer student behavior, and teacher self-fulfilling prophecy. It is likely that the relation between STRs and the endorsement of psychopathy traits is bidirectional. It is important, then, to examine ways in which to nurture the STR by, for instance, teaching social-emotional reciprocity and perspective-taking to at-risk stduents, so that the strengthened STR can act as a buffer against adverse outcomes.
Psychology Graduate Student
University of Alabama at Birmingham