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March 11, 2011

Negative classroom environment harmful for kids' mental health!

A new study has found that children in classrooms with inadequate material resources & children whose teachers feel they are not respected by colleagues exhibit more mental health problems than students in classrooms without these issues!

The study lead, Melissa A Milkie, a sociology professor at the University of Maryland, said: "Our research shows that the classroom environment really matters when it comes to children's mental health." According to Milkie & colleague Catharine H Warner, policymakers typically measure school quality & teacher effectiveness in terms of academic outcomes such as test scores. But, Milkie said, their study demonstrates that schools & teachers also impact children's mental health, making it a barometer that deserves more attention. "I think parents care a lot about their children's mental health-their emotional & behavioural well-being - but we as a society don't tend to focus on that as an important educational outcome nearly as much as we talk about and think about academic outcomes," he said.

The study relies on a nationally representative sample of approximately 10,700 first graders, whose parents & teachers were interviewed. As part of their study, the authors considered how the classroom environment impacted four components of mental health: learning (eg, attentiveness), externalising problems (eg, fights), interpersonal behaviour (eg, forming friendships), & internalising problems (eg, anxiety & sadness).

Children in classrooms with inadequate material resources & children whose teachers felt their colleagues did not respect them experienced worse mental health across all four measures. The material resources ranged from basics such as paper, pencils, & heat to child-friendly furnishings, computers, musical instruments & art supplies. "Being in a classroom with a lack of resources might adversely impact children's mental health because children are frustrated or disheartened by their surroundings," Milkie said.

Regarding children whose teachers felt their colleagues did not respect them, Milkie suggested there is an adverse trickle down effect on students. "If teachers are feeling stressed out because they aren't getting what they need from their colleagues, that stress may carry over to the kids," he said. The study appears in the March issue of the Journal of Health & Social Behavior.

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