I just couldn't stop shaking: Early career teachers coping with aggressive student behaviour

Year: 2012

Author: Sullivan, Anna

Type of paper: Abstract refereed



Research findings consistently feature behaviour management as the greatest concern for early career teachers and that dealing with student misbehaviour impacts negatively on their professional resilience and job satisfaction. Early career teachers are particularly vulnerable to self-doubt about their classroom management ability, and there are clear links between perceived reduced professional efficacy in classroom management and burnout. However, little research has investigated the nature of the student behaviour problems that cause concern for teachers early in their careers.

The aim of this study was to investigate the nature of incidents involving aggressive student behaviour faced by early career teachers. More specifically, what types of incidents involving aggressive behaviour occurred? How did the teachers manage these incidents? What support was given to teachers to promote professional efficacy?


A data set was created from a larger ARC Linkage research project which involved interviewing 60 early career teachers and their leaders. This larger project examined the situational and contextual factors that support the resilience of early career teachers (Johnson et al., 2010). The data set was created in NVivo8 and was analysed using an inductive and thematic process.


The findings of this study indicate that many early career teachers encountered significant aggressive and violent incidents of student behaviour which placed them professionally 'at risk'. These incidents frequently left graduate teachers feeling shocked, vulnerable and incompetent. Additionally, these teachers often felt unsupported by colleagues.


This study suggests that pre-service teacher education should provide opportunities for learning to deal with crisis situations; and systems and schools should provide ongoing targeted professional learning, support and guidance to graduate teachers. Finally, I argue that there is a need for teacher and student wellbeing to be considered by the profession as a collective commitment.

This research was supported under Australian Research Council's Linkage Projects funding scheme (LP0883672).


Johnson, B., Down, B., Le Cornu, R., Peters, J., Sullivan, A. M., Pearce, J., & Hunter, J. (2010). Conditions that support early career teacher resilience. Paper presented at the Australian Teacher Education Association Conference, Townsville, Qld.