Bullying Study Reveals Incoming Science Teachers Need Training

by Traci Raley

A study of 21 preservice secondary science teachers found that they do not feel adequately prepared to handle bullying in the classroom. The study, conducted by Raven and Jurkiewicz in 2014, asked the soon-to-be teachers what content specific issues they anticipated might lead to bullying in their science classrooms, and how they would handle these issues.

In this study, the science teachers stated that the topics they are most concerned about discussing with students are genetics and evolution. Science content can lead to sensitive topics such as religion, race, gender, and sexual orientation, which can, in turn, lead to bullying. They fear that these topics may instigate bullying with their high school and middle school students. Some even saw this happen during their classroom observations. One teacher witnessed a group of about 20 students calling another student dumb because she said that her religion did not believe in evolution. Another teacher overheard statements about black races being “more primitive” and white races being “more evolved” during a discussion on human origins beginning in Africa. A third teacher witnessed students bullying another for his “weak genetics” because he was short.

Although all the teachers agreed that bullying is wrong, some said that they believe it is a normal part of life, that they cannot stop it, and that it teaches coping skills. Others disagreed, saying that they believe school should be a safe place and that they will try to stop bullying when they see it. Some expressed concern that they have a responsibility to stop bullying, but they admit that they don’t have the authority to handle it properly. They fear angering students or parents, or possibly even being fired. When asked how they would handle sensitive topics, some teachers said that they would avoid or ignore investigative questions, while others said they would tell the students to ask their parents about it or read about it in the literature. Another suggestion was to just state facts without giving opinions.

Although the teachers disagreed on some things, they all agreed that their college courses did not properly train them on how to handle bullying in the science classroom. As most people know, when bullying goes unstopped, it can have long-lasting negative effects on the victim, such as low academic scores, low self-esteem, and depression. This study shows that preservice secondary science teachers need more training on how to handle bullying so that they can manage it in their classrooms, especially during sensitive discussions.

Reference:

Raven, S., & Jurkiewicz, M. A. (2014). ERIC – Preservice Secondary Science Teachers’ Experiences and Ideas about Bullying in Science Classrooms, Science Educator, 2014. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1034771

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