Minority children more likely to have negative relationships with teachers

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Children and young people from minority backgrounds more likely to experience negative relationships with teachers, new research has found.

Pupils from Muslim backgrounds are also likely to experience feelings of rejection according to the new research led by an academic from Queen’s University, Belfast.

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

The study involved 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, children from minority backgrounds were more likely to have a negative experience.

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

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

Dr Gulseli Baysu, a lecturer in Psychology at Queen’s University Belfast, led the study. She described student-teacher relationships as “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,” she said.

“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.”

She added: “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 paper has been published in Child Development.

Dr Baysu 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 the research.