Fostering Resilience Among Early Adolescents Exposed to Community Violence: Challenges, Strategies, and Support Needs of Middle School Teachers in Predominantly African American Urban Communities

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Community violence places youth at risk for adverse developmental consequences such as poor school achievement, aggression, and self-destructive behaviors. Although an increasing number of studies have investigated the strategies that parents use to protect their children from negative effects of violence exposure, there is a dearth of research that focuses on the challenges faced by teachers in violent communities. Recognizing the potential for teachers to have a major influence on early adolescents' development, this study addressed a major gap in the literature by examining: 1) the challenges that teachers face in low-income neighborhoods with high community violence; 2) the strategies that teachers use to foster resilience in their students; and 3) the supports that teachers need to more effectively teach and guide youth within violent communities.

This qualitative study adopted an ecological/risk and resilience framework. Teachers' voices provided important information about the challenges of teaching in violent neighborhoods and the protective factors within various ecological contexts that help teachers foster youth resilience and maintain their own teaching effectiveness. The investigator recruited 20 teachers from three middle schools with predominantly African American students located in neighborhoods with high violence levels in Maryland.

A modified grounded theory approach was used for data analysis. Results revealed that community violence was the central phenomenon affecting teachers in the three schools. Three emergent concepts framed teachers' depiction of their challenges, strategies, and support needs: 1) guidance; 2) structure; and 3) self preservation. Specifically, teachers in violent communities confronted challenges providing youth with guidance and structure, while preserving their own mental health. They employed guidance-related strategies to foster youth resilience; addressed structure in their classrooms, school, and community; and engaged in behaviors to preserve their personal mental health. Finally, teachers expressed needs for support to effectively guide youth; improve school and community structure; and access mental health-related services. The study concludes by discussing implications of the findings for programs and policies, including the need to improve teacher training, school leadership, school security, peer mediation and counseling services, parent education, and community involvement in anti-violence initiatives. Suggestions for future research are also discussed.