Pupils from minority backgrounds more likely to experience negative relationships with teachers

23/09/2021 08:59

Pupils from Muslim minority backgrounds are more likely to have a negative relationship with their teacher and experience feelings of rejection, according to new research by Queen’s University Belfast.

The large-scale longitudinal study, which focuses on the experiences of majority students (those who are non-immigrant) and minority students from a Muslim background (immigrant), took place in Belgium over three years.

It included 3,320 students from 70 randomly selected schools and investigated the relationships between the students and their teachers and how these change throughout secondary school.

The students were asked about their relationship with teachers during daily life at school and feelings of rejection were measured by asking students if the teacher was “unfair or hostile”, if the teacher expects “you cannot do anything right”, if they “talk to you as if you were stupid” or if the teacher “lets you know that you are not welcome”.

The study also examined whether diversity policies at the school have an impact on the relationships between students and teachers.

It found that while most students across both minority and majority backgrounds experienced positive relationships with their teachers during their secondary school years, it is children from minority backgrounds who are more likely to have a negative experience.

Over the three years, 94.5 per cent of majority students experienced positive or moderately positive relationships, while 77.7 per cent of Muslim minority students had positive relationships with their teachers.

A small group of both majority adolescents (5.5 per cent) and Muslim minority adolescents (13.8 per cent) initially experienced negative relationships with teachers but then went on to have a positive relationship. Among Muslim minority adolescents, a group of 8.5 per cent experienced deteriorating relationships over the three years, with an increase in feelings of rejection by their teacher.

Dr Gülseli Baysu, a lecturer in Psychology at Queen’s University Belfast, led the study. She says: “Student-teacher relationships are critical for development in adolescents. When students feel supported by their teachers, they do well in school but when they feel rejected by their teachers, they do worse.

“Our research found that positive relationships between all students and teachers are linked with positive school outcomes, such as a sense of belonging to the school and emotional engagement. However, for minority students, this is even more important - a supportive relationship with their teachers can actually protect them from having behavioural problems at school.”

Dr Baysu explains: “We found that for minority kids, their relationships with teachers can play a more critical role for success but unfortunately it is these students who are more likely to experience rejection by their teachers. A small group of both majority and minority students reported initially negative relationships with their teachers but these improved over time.

“However, a small group of Muslim minority adolescents experienced increasingly negative relationships with their teachers. Overall, it was these minority students who experienced less positive relationship with their teachers.”

The research also looked at whether school diversity shapes student and teacher relationship quality. The experts asked students and teachers about their perceptions of how their schools endorse equality, multiculturalism, and assimilation – where minority students are absorbed into the dominant culture.

Dr Baysu comments: “We found that when students – particularly minority students - felt that their school valued equal treatment and diversity and combatted discrimination, they were more likely to experience positive relationships with their teachers.

“These findings highlight the long-term benefits of practicing and communicating fairness. They also show the value of diversity in building positive teacher and student relationships.

“The research reaffirms the need for interventions to tackle relationships that are deteriorating between students and teachers as the quality of student-teacher relationships is important for all students, but even more so for minority adolescents.”

The research paper has been published in Child Development and is available to read here - https://doi.org/10.1111/cdev.13417.

Dr Gülseli Baysu from Queen’s University Belfast worked alongside Professor Karen Phalet from University of Leuven, Professor Kay Deaux from City University of New York (and New York University) and Jessie Hillekens from University of Leuven on this research project.

This research is supported by grants from the Research Foundation-Flanders, the University of Leuven Research Council, the Jacobs Foundation and The Advanced Research Collaborative (ARC) Distinguished Visiting Fellowship in the Graduate Center of City University of New York.

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