Teachers’ experiences with disruptive student behaviour: A grounded theory study

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Disruptive behaviours
Elementary teachers’ perceptions
Classroom management
Grounded theory

For both new and veteran teachers disruptive student behaviour is consistently reported as the most demanding aspect of the teaching experience and is often cited as one of the reasons teachers leave the profession. Using grounded theory as a guiding methodological framework in this study I explored the interview data from 13 general elementary teachers collected over a three-year period from Fall 2015 to Fall 2018 asking, “How do experienced elementary school teachers perceive and manage disruptive student behaviour? And what are the relationships among their perceptions of disruptive classroom behaviour, teaching philosophy and strategies?” This study took place, in British Columbia, Canada, at a time when the province underwent changes in class size legislation subsequently 10 of the 13 teachers interviewed provided data about these changes to their class size and their management of disruptive student behaviour. Findings from this study showed that teachers considered behaviour to be disruptive when they did not understand its underlying purpose, it was unexpected and it required the teacher to make substantial and unplanned changes involving the whole class. In this process, the teacher was found to consider and weigh the impact of the behaviour on the student and the other students in the class. Finally, the teachers considered the behaviour’s impact on their own ability to teach and meet the needs of all their students, and its impact on the other students’ ability to learn. Findings also showed that class size and composition influenced teachers’ perceptions and management of disruptive student behaviour. Overall smaller class sizes were viewed as beneficial, however, teachers noted that the loss of the Educational Assistant (EA) in the classroom to support all students was an unexpected consequence of the class size reduction. This loss of an additional trained adult was profound when dealing with one or several disruptive students. Overall findings from this study, including those on class size and composition, highlighted the importance of relationality and community building as part of what “good teachers” do to support positive learning behaviour. The findings suggest that disruptive student behaviour can be understood theoretically within a two petal relational model where tactical strategies integrated with relationship building can support positive behaviours and prevent a relational disconnect with students.

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Margaret MacDonald
Education: Faculty of Education
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) Ph.D.