Mental health challenges of educators concerning the experience of violence in the secondary school setting.
by Poggenpoel, Marie, Faculties of Health Sciences and Education, University of Johannesburg, South Africa, And Myburgh, Chris, Faculties of Health Sciences and Education, University of Johannesburg, South Africa.

Theme : International Journal on Violence and School, n°2, December 2006

South Africa is presently celebrating 10 years of a democratically elected government. With this experience of democracy a number of new responsibilities were placed on the newly elected government. This government is confronted with the problem that a large part of the South African population is living under extreme poverty. Further, urbanisation is rapidly. It is usually common under such conditions that low socio-economic townships adjacent to large cities develop. In these often unstructured townships shacks form the backbone of informal housing. Under these conditions violence and other related social problems are dominant. Teaching in newly and fast erected schools in such a township results that teachers are subjected to. Against this background the research questions posed in our investigation are: “How do teachers experience violence/aggression in a school in an informal settlement in South Africa?” and “What could be done to facilitate the mental health of teachers teaching in schools in an informal settlement?”

Keywords : .

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IntroductionA research project was conducted to:

  • explore and describe the experience of educators of violence in a secondary school in an informal settlement in South Africa; and
  • describe strategies to facilitate the mental health of involved educators.

The research design was qualitative, explorative, descriptive and contextual. Measures to ensure trustworthiness and ethics were applied. A purposive sample was taken from secondary school educators in an informal environment. Data were collected using in depth phenomenological interviews and naïve sketches. The central question was: How do you experience violence/aggression in this school? Tesch's method was used to analyse the data. After a consensus discussion with an independent coder, the identified themes were that educators experience:

  • disrespect as aggression;
  • irritation and frustration; and
  • reflection on experienced aggression.

Strategies will be derived to facilitate educators’ mental health in a secondary school in an informal settlement.


In 1994 the first ever democratic elections took place in South Africa. Since then changes were brought about in almost all spheres of the South African society. The dismantling of old Apartheid structures did not and is not taking place without infliction of emotional stress in all spheres. Further, because of the aspirations of South Africans to seek “a better life for all”, people are flocking towards the cities and rapid urbanisation is taking place. However, many of these aspirations are not met. Instead, these expectations are even frustrated through increased poverty, overcrowding and accompanying moral problems. Our society is thus placed under ever-increasing stress and South Africans are challenged. To complicate the situation even more, South Africa is seen by many of the inhabitants of neighbouring countries and even countries higher up in Africa as the land of “golden opportunities”. Therefore, other African inhabitants are flocking to South Africa. Further, the South African society is increasingly crippled by the psychological, social and economical effects of the AIDS pandemic. Consequently the South African society that is already under stress is even further challenged.

It is very clear from the brief above explication that the age-old principle of LeChatelier (Sienko & Plane, 1966:163) first published in 1884, is applicable to the South African situation. This principle entails that “when a system is placed under stress that system will act in such a way as to try to relief the stress under which it is placed”. Some of the symptoms and reactions upon these high levels of stress in the South African society is, for example, manifested through and reflected in high divorce rates, drug addictions, road rage, political unrest, and absenteeism from work, high jacking, rape, incest, vandalism and many more. Thus it seems as if society and persons within society is reacting through behaviour such as frustration, anger, bitterness, maliciousness, irritation, obstruction and destruction. Most of these are in essence aggressive and violent in nature.

From the literature it seems as if everyone has a different meaning or definition to describe aggression, but most people view aggression as negative behaviour towards self or other. According to Krüger, Rech and Van Staden (1993: 9; see also Kaplan & Sadock 1997:156) aggression can be viewed as any type of behaviour that is directed to harm, hurt, inflict pain or destroy another person. Aggression can also be self-directed. Aggression can be conscious or subconscious behaviour such as self-criticism, self-harm, verbal threats and assault. Nevertheless, aggression is an integral part of a human being in relationship with his/her self, other persons and the environment. The external manifestations of aggression, whether constructive or destructive, is not the starting point of aggression. However, the approach offered by Johnson (2003: 314) is accepted as basis for this research: He states that aggressive behaviour is an attempt to hurt someone or destroy something. It infringes on the rights of others and involves a person’s expressing feelings indirectly through insults, sarcasms, labels, put-downs and hostile statements and actions. Aggressive behaviour involves expressing thoughts, feelings and opinions in a way that violates other’s rights to be treated with respect and dignity.

Aggression develops from childhood and continues into adulthood. Chamberlain (2000: 2-4) states that it seems as if aggression can develop even from before birth. Aggression is viewed by Lorenz, Ardery and Momis (1960-15-16) as an innate instinct common to both humans and animals. Some researchers like Bandura (Shaffer, 1999:314-316; Kaplan & Sadock, 1997: 157, 153) have demonstrated that aggressive behaviour is learned through a combination of modelling and reinforcement. Viewing aggression and violence can elicit aggressive behaviour. By increasing the viewer’s arousal and desensitising viewers to violence often results in reducing restraints on aggressive and violent behaviour. Aggression can have a broad impact on an individual’s psychological, emotional, and economic well-being. It can also have an effect the individual’s productivity, work quality and customer services as well as increased costs due to the absence of employees (Kenney, 1996: 200-201).

Aggression starts within the psychological world of the individual. The way in which the individual interprets his/her perceptions will elicit an emotional response that will effect the person’s decision on what to do with his/her interpretation of the world. Aggression is expressed in a destructive manner if it harms self and/or others and/or the environment (Tesser, 1995:383-418).

It is clear that aggression should be viewed within a multi-dimensional perspective. Psychosocial, situational-environmental, and biological factors are all viewed as possible contributors to the manifestation of aggression and violence. This indicates that the phenomenon of aggression is embedded within a specific psycho-socio-ecological context. Authors such as Barker (1968:1-9) and Myburgh (1981:7-8) emphasise the importance of studying human behaviour and development within the psycho-socio-ecological context. This refers to the physical, social, psychological and volitional (values) environment (Myburgh, 1981:7-8). Psycho-social factors that contribute towards aggressive behaviour include inability to cope with frustration; uncomfortable livelihood; exposure to aggressive models such as violence in the media and parents with aggressive behaviour; poor socio-economic circumstances especially in urbanized areas; poor family relationships; times of social stress (such as a high inflation rate and increasing divorce statistics), and rejection by peers (Pepler & Sedighdeilami, 1998: 1; Morrisen, Robertson & Harding, 1998: 217; Solomon & Serres, 1999:339-340; Mooij, 1998: 374; Debaryshe & Fryxell, 1998: 205-214; Collings, 1994: 35-37; Pulkkinen & Ramirez, 1991: 69; Krüger, Rech & Van Staden, 1993: 9-10). Situational-environmental factors that can contribute towards aggressive behaviour include competitive sport; physical pain; anxiety; being in a crowd; and air and noise pollution (Smith & Furlong: 1998, 2021-202; Krüger, Rech & Van Staden, 1993: 10). Further, biological factors contributing to aggression include constitutional factors (a person’s temperament); genetics; hormonal factors; neuro-anatomical factors such as neurotransmission and neurological disturbances (Mooij, 1998: 374; Krüger, Rech & Van Staden, 1993: 10-11).

The relationship between aggression and violence in our view is close. Aggressive behaviour in humans takes the form of violent actions against others, who may avoid such treatment or may fight back. Aggression implies the intent to harm or otherwise injure another person, an implication from events preceding or following the act of aggression (Kaplan & Sadock, 1997:154). Aggression in our view is often when the person is still in control or seems to be in control. He or she is experiencing “uneasiness”. There is a tendency to act upon a stimulus. This person is nevertheless still experiencing that he /she is in control and actions are weighed and thought through. However, when the person is starting to experience that he or she is loosing control and is no longer acting in a way that “the reasonable person” should act, s/he is starting to resort to violent behaviour. Actions can then usually no longer be described as responsible actions. Such actions can be overt or covert, it can be mild or extreme, it can be reasoned through or unreasonable – The person’s behaviour under such circumstances becomes violent in nature. Commonly cited predictors of dangerousness to others are a high degree of intent to harm, presence of a victim, frequent and open threats, a concrete plan, access to instruments of violence, history of loss of control, chronic anger, hostility or resentment, enjoyment in watching or inflicting harm, lack of compassion, self-view as victim, resentful of authority, childhood brutality or deprivation, decreased warmth and affection in home, early loss of parents, fire setting, bed wetting, and cruelty to animals, prior violent acts and reckless driving (Kaplan & Sadock, 1997: 155). Violent acts are most often committed by persons who know or knew each other.

Despite the fact that many of us live in different geographic locations, for the educator the school as workplace remains an integral part of his or her personal community. Therefore, it stands to reason that the solutions related to aggression and violence experienced by educators in the school would most probably influence the involved respective communities. The exploration and description of educators’ experience of aggression and violence is important as it can contribute towards a human being’s mental health.


Education and educational structures have not been excluded from the stress and challenges that is experienced by individuals in the South African society. Aggression and violence is becoming an increasing problem in South African schools. These challenges and other challenges not even mentioned eventually influence individuals (educators and learners) in the classroom setup. These challenges in the classroom often manifest through authority struggles, disciplinary confusion, overt and convert aggression and also violence. According to the Vulindela Consortium ( Sunday Times, 10 July 2005) a staggering 77% of educators at government schools – most of them secondary schools – are stressed or are suffering from emotional problems. Aggression in schools includes acts of hinting, hurting and showing, injuring, irritating, unprovoked physical aggression and mildly provoked verbal aggression (Felson & Tedeschi, 1993: 50). Mosia (2004: 51) remarks that “aggression begets aggression”. In her research on learners’ experience of aggression in the classroom Mosia (2004) indicates that there is a variation of feelings experienced by learners; that they respond to educator aggression; and that learners are having needs in response to educator aggression. This can indicate that the experience of aggression in the classroom might have detrimental effects on the mental health of educators in the classroom.

Educators are increasingly subjected to various forms aggression and violence in their work situation. From personal reports of educators it became clear that the experiencing of aggression and violence seems to affect the mental health of educators. However, little research has been done to explore and describe the experience of aggression and violence by educators in secondary schools in South Africa. In view of this the research questions that were posed in this research project are: "What are the experiences of educators of aggression and violence in secondary school in South Africa?” and “What strategies could be formulated to facilitate the mental health of educators subjected to aggression and violence?”


The aims of our study were to:

  • explore and describe the experience of educators of aggression in a secondary school in an informal settlement in South Africa; and
  • describe strategies to facilitate the mental health of involved educators.


The research design and aspects relevant to research design and method will now be discussed.

Research design

A qualitative research design was used because it was deemed more effective than a quantitative approach in providing an understanding of how an educator experience aggression and violence in a school. A qualitative, explorative, descriptive and contextual design was used (Mouton & Marais, 1994: 15, 43, 49, 102-104; Mouton, 1996: 133-134; Creswell, 1994: 43; Burns & Grove, 1993: 28-29; Kvale, 1983: 30-33; Denzin & Lincoln, 2000: 3; Morse, 1994: 263). The investigation upon which report is given forms part of a larger investigation on “Aggression in secondary schools in South Africa”. This project is sponsored with a grant from the National Research Foundation of South Africa.

Assumptions of the researchers

The paradigmatic perspective is based on meta-theoretical, theoretical and methodological assumptions. The Theory of Health Promotion in Nursing of the Department of Nursing Science of the Rand Afrikaans University (presently the University of Johannesburg) provides the meta-theoretical and theoretical components of this study (Rand Afrikaans University, 2000: 9). It is an approach that is holistic and strives towards excellence, unconditional acceptance of people and respect for human rights. The researchers are tenured professors in psychiatric nursing science and education for more than 25 years at the University of Johannesburg (formerly the Rand Afrikaans University).

Research method

The research was conducted in two phases. In phase 1 an exploration of educators’ experiences of aggression and violence in a secondary school in an urban informal settlement in South Africa is addressed. In phase 2 strategies to address to promote the mental health of educators experiencing aggression and violence will be briefly formulated.

Phase 1: Educators’ experience of aggression in a secondary school in South Africa

In phase 1 attention was given to sampling, data gathering, data analysis and literature control. The issues regarding trustworthiness and ethics were addressed.

Sampling: Participants were included by means of purposive sampling (Creswell, 1994:15). The criteria for inclusion were educators who were teaching in a secondary school in South Africa and who voluntarily agreed to participate in the research.

Interviews were conducted with secondary school educators by the researcher (the two authors) in an informal settlement. The researchers have in-depth experience in qualitative research and present qualitative research methodology workshops annually at different universities within and out of South Africa on invitation. The interviews were conducted in English as that is medium of instruction in this secondary school. Both the researchers are White and the educators are all Black. No racial issues came up in the research as the researchers have a long standing relationship with all the role players at this secondary school. Interviews were conducted until the data were saturated as was demonstrated by repeating themes (Creswell, 1994:148; Lincoln & Guba, 1985: 2002). Twelve educators were interviewed. Six were males and six were females. They were between 30 and 45 years of age. Their experience as educators ranged from six to 20 years experience. Eight educators kept diaries on their experience of aggression and violence in the school.

Data collection: Data were gathered by means of phenomenological interviews, written personal stories (diaries (Denzin & Lincoln, 2000: 468, 741) and naïve sketches as described by Giorgi (1985:10-19)), observations and field notes. Phenomenological interviews (Kvale, 1996: 81-107; Marshall & Rossman, 1995: 80-83) were conducted with participants. These interviews focused on the lived experience of each specific participant. One central question was posed, namely: “How is aggression for you in this school?” The interviewers created a context where the participants could speak freely and openly by utilising communication techniques such as clarification, paraphrasing, summarising, probing and minimal verbal as well as non-verbal responses (Wilson & Kneisl, 1996:110-131; Okun, 1997: 70, 74; Kvale, 1983:133; Brammer, Shostrom & Abrego, 1989: 71; Stuart & Sundeen, 1991: 122). During the interviews the interviewers used bracketing (placing preconceived ideas aside) and intuiting (focusing on the lived experience of aggression by participants regarding aggression in the specific school). The interviewers wrote field notes based on observations during the interviews. These field notes addressed the interviewers’ observation, personal experience, methodological issues and theoretical notes (Wilson, 1989:436-438).

Data analysis: Data were descriptively analysed by using Tesch’s method (Creswell, 1994: 154-156) of descriptive analysis. Each transcribed interview was analysed for units of meaning. All units of meanings were clustered together to form themes and categories. Themes and categories were supported by direct quotations from the educators. An independent coder analysed the data independently from the various researchers (Creswell, 1994:158; Krefting, 1990:216). Consensus discussions were held between the independent coder and the researchers and identified themes were refined. A literature control was done to verify the results (Poggenpoel, 1993: 3; Morse & Field, 1996:3).

Measures to ensure trustworthiness: Measures to ensure trustworthiness were applied. Guba’s (Lincoln & Guba, 985:290-327; Krefting, 1995: 215) strategies of credibility, transferability, dependability and confirmability were applied. Activities in achieving credibility were prolonged engagement in the field, keeping reflexive journals, the researchers’ authority, triangulation, peer review and structural coherence. Transferability was achieved through a dense description of the data and purposive sampling. Dependability was achieved by a description of the method of data gathering, data analysis and interpretation. Finally, confirmability was achieved by ensuring an audit of the entire research process, reflexive analysis and triangulation.

Ethical measures: Ethical measures (Democratic Nurses Association of South Africa, 1998:5; Burns & Grove, 1993: 89; Kvale, 1983: 112) were adhered to during the research regarding this sensitive issue. These include ensuring quality of the research, informed consent of participants, providing feedback on the project to the participants, ensuring confidentiality and anonymity and protection from harm. The participants were told that they were free to withdraw from the study at any stage if they so desired. They were also told that if certain emotional issues might arise, they would be referred to a professional if necessary. Furthermore, the participants were given the assurance that all audio taped interviews would be destroyed once they had been transcribed.

Phase 2: Description of strategies that can be utilised by educators experiencing aggression and violence in the school setting

Data gathering: Inference (Copi, 1994: 57) was used to identify strategies from the results of phase 1.

Data analysis: These strategies were discussed with other professionals to ensure trustworthiness. Thereafter a literature control was done (Poggenpoel, 1993: 3; Morse & Field, 1996:3).


During data analysis and consensus discussions three themes emerged from the data. These themes and categories are now discussed, with supporting direct quotations from educators. Take note that no language editing was done on the direct quotations as the meaning of the quotation could be changed.

The first theme identified was disrespect experienced by the educators experienced as aggression:

The disrespect experienced by the educators as aggression include educators’ experience of: learners being physically aggressive towards each other in class, learners not used being treated with respect by adults and do not treat educators with respect, educators also loosing their temper and beating the learners or making degrading remarks about their physical appearance, and educators experiencing passive aggression from colleagues when they do not submit work on target dates.

  • Educators experience learners as being physically aggressive towards each other in class: participants voiced the following on learners being physically aggressive in class

“… most learners from grade R we can say that they are violent, always we take learners to the clinic that fought with each other in class… “.

“… they don’t respect each other like the boy who had just pulled up the girl’s tunic and then pour water in her undies (underwear) and I don’t understand why and he was laughing saying ‘I was playing with her’”.

Allen, Gable and Hendrikson (1994: 181-190) also identify physical aggression in older children as an example of aggressive behaviour. Myles and Simpson (1994: 373) states that physical aggressive behaviour may include biting, hitting, kicking or destroying property. Van Acker (1993: 23) quotes the United States of America’s National School Safety Centre Report that indicated that approximately 28 200 learners and 5200 educators are physically attacked each month, and that over 19% of these victims require hospitalisation. In line with this Kaplan and Sadock (1997: 155) indicate that one national survey of secondary school learners in the United States of America reported that 28% of the boys and 7% of the girls had been in a physical fight in the previous month. Nearly 35% of those surveyed reported having been in at least one physical fight that resulted in an injury requiring medical attention.

  • Learners are not used to being treated with respect by adults and do not treat educators with respect. This causes educators to become angry and aggressive. The following quotation from interviews conducted with educators demonstrates this aspect:

“… talking to adults, you can see they are not used to that respect and sometimes being an adult you end up loosing your temper, and you also being violent and showing aggressiveness to the learner for their behaviour and also because of the area, that they come from”.

“… it’s fighting, I’ve mentioned fighting, answering back… disrespect...”.

“… sometimes not taking instruction… not doing their school work”.

“…. There was this boy who came with plated hair, we reported the boy together with my senior there and requested him to undo the plate. According to our code of conduct boys are not supposed to plate their hair… he went to another class with halve the hair plated… he just wanted to cause confusion”.

  • Educators also loose their temper and beat the learners or make degrading remarks about their appearance: The participants verbalise the following:

“… you loose temper, some teachers loose temper and end up …. Beating the children …. Or telling them, you know, when you attack somebody about his physical appearance, something you cannot change…”.

“… some teachers still beating the learners”.

“I am busy introducing a new lesson in the class and one child is going through a magazine or drawing or just not concentrating, I will just shout”.

Felson and Tedeschi (1993: 50) is of opinion that aggression in schools includes acts of hitting, hurting and shoving, injuring, irritating, unprovoked physical aggression and mildly provoked verbal aggression. These physical assaults and verbal assaults from educators such as making threats and name-calling traumatise learners (Curcio & Patricia, 1993: 26; Epanchin & Paul, 1987: 111). Educators’ aggression is intended to inflict pain or discomfort upon learners. This is one way in which anger is sometimes expressed to make learners feel inferior and to have a low self-esteem (Smith & Paul, 2000: 23). Albert (Myles and Simpson, 1994: 372- 374) identifies educator behaviour that may lead to aggression and raising voice or yelling at learners; making unwarranted assumptions; backing the learner into a corner; pleading or bribing learners to behave; insisting on having the last word, and using degrading insulting humiliating or embarrassing put down. Van Acker (1993: 24) on the other hand states that even the most caring individual can become frustrated, angry and vengeful when confronted with a combative and resistive child. Van Acker (1993: 24) emphasises that not all violence perpetrated in schools are initiated. He gives the example of a grade eight boy that was hospitalised for two days following a beating by his school’s principal for talking out of class. He further states (Van Acker, 1993: 78) that educators contributed to some violence in their classes because of the disciplinary measures that they use.

  • Educators also experience passive aggression from their colleagues when they do not submit work on set target dates. One educator verbalised:

“Aggression with the teachers when you want them to submit the work and they don’t submit, in other words, they don’t honor the date.”

The second theme identified from the results was irritation and frustration, as part and parcel of aggression, experienced by educators.

Educators experience irritation and frustration because of their high workload. This leads them to be unproductive. The high workload also means that they have to take work home and they do not have time to spend with their family. When they work late at school, they worry about their own children that are left home unattended. Participants verbalise:

“… you sometimes become stressful of a work load, you find yourself having to do eight activities and what I’m worried about is that we start the activities and while we are still busy with one, we have the first one and do the other one and I’ve become frustrated and not productive, I don’t know what to do…” .

“ …. You leave at school late with school books, I must take them home… I don’t have time for my family during the week…”.

“On my side it’s the time (getting late off at work… ) I get frustrated and I think a lot of my daughter who is unattended because they knock off at 1:30 where she is attending school and here I am looking after somebody else’s daughter who doesn’t even appreciate it because we are told we are having free after care at this school. Having learners and not having time for preparing”.

Research conducted by Myburgh and Poggenpoel (2002: 263) on educators’ experience of their school environment indicate that educators experience that they are overloaded by work and have the perception that management has the lighter load of work and do not motivate educators, but only look for mistakes in their work.

The third theme is on reflection of educators related to experienced aggression.

Educators also experience irritation and frustration when they reflect on aggression and angry behaviour demonstrated by learners and colleagues. As some of the participants verbalised:

“I also get irritated because you know when I’m alone… you know I sometimes reintrospect myself, I say am I a good person? Are they good people? But then where is the problem?”

“ you find some of the learners come maybe to the school in the morning already angry, some you’ll never know what annoyed them … you become the victim of the situation as the teacher...”.

“…. some of our learners arrive late at school … most specially those who smoke, some of them smoke marijuana and then you can find the learner has a problem with the teacher”.

“I feel isolated in such a way that I also sit down and try to reintrospect and see I am a good teacher? Why am I asking myself these questions? Because I see learners being over me, I see my colleague teachers being over me, so it’s like me against the world”.

“What frustrates me is… they know about sex, they are exposed to liquor, you find that they are smoking the chalk, then they take them, you know the sweet aid-red stuff that you mix with water? They start sniffing… it’s what they do”.

“About irritation and frustration …. They can’t come regularly to school, because there’s no monitoring at home”.

In line with what educators verbalise Van Acker (1993: 24) voices the opinion that even the most caring individual can become frustrated, angry and vengeful when confronted with a combative and resistive child. Myles and Simpson (1998: 260) also identify defensive behaviour from learners like lashing out verbally or physically or threatening the educators or other learners and withdrawing from other emotionally or physically. Myles and Simpson (1994: 379) state that it is common for out-of-control learners to attempt to throw or destroy materials and items important to their educators. Myles and Simpson (1994: 373) are of the opinion that the learner may challenge the classroom structure or authority by attempting to engage an educator in a power struggle.


In the preceding results of the research on educators’ experience of aggression in a secondary school in an informal settlement it is clear that educators experience mental health challenges. These mental health challenges are experienced intrapersonally, interpersonally and in their environment (Kreigh & Perko, 1983: 506). Intrapersonally educators experience irritation and frustration, and reflect on possible personal involvement in aggressive behaviour. Interpersonally they experience disrespect that leads them to loose their temper and beat learners or make degrading remarks towards learners. Educators also experience learners as being physically aggressive towards each other in class. In the environment educators experience a high workload impinging on their family life and involvement. The following strategies are suggested to facilitate educators’ mental health in addressing mental health obstacles in experienced aggression (See Table 1).


Based on the information in Table 1 the following serves as a basis for the discussions of strategies to facilitate the mental health of educators:

· Intrapersonal strategies to facilitate mental health: Educators need to be workshopped on self-knowledge and self-disclosure (Johnson, 2003: 51). Their self-identity need to be facilitated by answering the following question: “Who am I?”; “Where do I come from?”; and “Where am I going to?” Educators should be supported to demonstrate assertive behaviour that is describing their feelings, thoughts, opinion and preferences directly to another person in an honest and appropriate way that respects both the self and the other person. Educators need to be provided for tips on survival in a stressful situation. These include having deeply held goals and commitments; sharing distress with other people; maintaining a high morale and avoiding depression; engaging in physical activity and maintaining friendships and love relationships.

  • Interpersonal strategies to facilitate mental health: It is important that educators are given the opportunity to master interpersonal skills. These interpersonal skills include effective communication, expressing feelings verbally and non-verbally; helpful listening and responding and resolving interpersonal conflict (Johnson, 2003: 124-295). In addressing aggression educators need to be facilitated in the following aspects

      o Management of aggression and violence: training for participating educators should include discussion of method, modelling of various procedures and role-playing (Myles & Simpson, 1994: 377).
      o Practice for a crisis: learners and educators should be prepared for a crisis involving acts of aggression and violence (Myles & Simpson, 1994: 377).
      o Emphasise the establishment of rapport with learners: a positive relationship with learners facilitate the effective use of a variety of verbal interaction. Positive human attitudes and values should be clearly demonstrated with learners (Myles & Simpson, 1994: 379).
      o Clear identification of boundaries: clear identification of rules and other boundaries can prevent aggressive and violent acts. Learners should know what behaviours they can and cannot engage in within the classroom setup. Learners respond best to clearly identify and consistently enforce rules and standards (Myles & Simpson, 1994: 379-380).
      o Remain calm and in control during aggressive and violent situations: Educators should calmly communicate to aggressive and violent learners that they are there to assist them. Educators should also communicate to learners that they are permitted to be upset and angry in a socially acceptable way. Educators must be willing to admit that they will not win arguments with learners. They must actively work not to engage in these interactions. It is much more productive to acknowledge learners’ feelings, ignore accusations, and assertively focus on steps needed to resolve crises of aggression and violence (Myles & Simpson, 1994: 380).
      o Constructive interpersonal relationships: Educators should strive to maintain learners’ dignity and esteem, including a willingness to understand learners and their unique circumstances, and to consider their emotional vulnerability (Myles & Simpson, 1994: 380-381).
      o Verbal interaction to de-escalate the acting out learner: Resistive learners are generally fearful of loosing control and often welcome efforts to restore self-control and preventing acting out. The aggressive learner should be approached in a manner that conveys the attitude that the educator intends to offer help (Van Acker, 1993: 29-30).

  • Environmental strategies to facilitate educators’ mental health: Educators need to organise their environment, exert control over or modify their immediate environment. They must be flexible and adapt to change. Educators need to engage in planned, thoughtful activity (Kreigh & Perko, 1983: 6). Educators need to prioritize their workload so that there is a balance between work, family life and recreational activities.


Thanks to the NRF (National Research Foundation of South Africa) for the financial support to conduct this research. The views expressed in this paper are that of the researchers and not the NRF.


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