High school teachers’ experience of psychological violence in the Free State

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The general aim of the article is to report on high school teachers’ experience of psychological violence in the Free State, based on the results of an empirical study that investigated the problem by making use of the Revised Negative Acts Questionnaire (NAQ-R). The NAQ-R is an internationally recognised and standardised instrument to measure psychological violence. The research reported in this article addresses a literature gap in the psychological violence literature, since the NAQ-R has not previously been used in the South African education sector to measure the incidence of psychological violence.

To date there has not been a generally accepted and universal definition of psychological violence, and different terms are used in the literature to describe the same broad phenomenon. Psychological violence is used as an umbrella term to describe negative behaviour and unacceptable acts, for example bullying, manhandling, conspiracy, harassment (sexual and racial), hostile misrepresentation (slander), employee maltreatment, emotional maltreatment, aggression and intimidation. The absence of a universally accepted definition and the use of different measuring instruments lead to contradictory findings between studies of psychological violence. The aforementioned deficiencies can be addressed by making use of the NAQ-R, as was actually the case in this research.

Psychological violence is maltreatment that is severe enough to influence the health of the targeted person, to destroy his entire career and to make his relationship with family and friends turbid. In line with this, the holistic ecosystemic theory, whereby the teacher is viewed as an individual within a holistic system consisting of five contexts, namely the psychological, biological, spiritual, ecological and metaphysical contexts, was used as the underlying theoretical framework and to explain the findings. Research indicated that the incidence of psychological violence is particularly high in the education sector. Despite the high incidence of psychological violence among teachers, the teachers are often reluctant to report psychological violence because, among other things, they fear possible intimidation and harassment at the hands of the perpetrators.

The occurrence of psychological violence has compelled many a company and organisation to establish policies that stop such occurrence in the workplace. It seems, however, not to be the case within the South African education system. The sources of psychological violence, in so far as it is applicable to teachers, are mostly management, but also colleagues and to a lesser extent learners and parents. As described in the literature, it seems as if variables such as gender, age, experience and qualifications, as well as race/ethnicity may contribute to whether persons experience psychological violence or not. Psychological violence often causes an enormous amount of stress and leads to teachers feeling depressed and traumatised.

The underlying research made use of the mixed-method research design. For the quantitative part of the research, a survey was done by making use of the NAQ-R as the measuring instrument. Based on the recommendations of the Statistical Consultation Services of the North-West University (under whose auspices the research was conducted), minor amendments were made to the NAQ-R to make it applicable to the South African education context. Biographical details such as school types, post levels, ethnicity and qualifications within the South African education context were added. The NAQ-R was distributed among 727 high school teachers at 82 schools in the five education districts of the Free State. Random sampling was used to select the respondents, which makes the quantitative findings applicable to the study population (high school teachers in the Free State). The collected data were analysed. Descriptive statistics, namely frequencies, means and standard deviations were calculated. Factor analysis was performed to determine the validity of the NAQ-R construct. Differences in the means of the various biographical groups were calculated with the aid of t-tests and ANOVAs. Cohen’s d-values (effect sizes) were also calculated to determine whether statistically significant differences also point to practically significant differences. Content validity was determined, as well as reliability. Cronbach’s coefficient alpha was calculated to determine whether the one extracted factor was reliable and to determine the internal consistency of the inter-item correlations. Only the quantitative findings will be reported on in this article, and specifically so, the teachers’ experience of psychological violence.

The findings show that high school teachers indeed experience psychological violence. The most frequently psychological violence items experienced by these teachers include the following: their opinions were being ignored; an uncontrollable workload; excessive monitoring of their work; withholding of certain information; tasks with unreasonable deadlines; spreading of rumours about them; isolation; offensive remarks about them; and outbursts. The findings further show that there are no practically significant differences between men and women with regard to exposure to psychological violence – they are more or less equally exposed. Older teachers, however, experience psychological violence to a greater extent than younger teachers with less teaching experience do. A possible connection was also perceived between qualification improvement and psychological violence, as well as between higher post levels and psychological violence. It seems as if teachers with higher qualifications and teachers who occupy higher post levels are possibly more exposed to psychological violence than other teachers. Teachers who are employed at public schools are also more frequently subjected to psychological violence than teachers at “other” schools. It is possible, as appears from the findings, that a minority group (coloured people) are more exposed. Our research findings were also compared with those of previous similar research. The inference was also made that psychological violence manifested mostly within the ecological context (employment-related) of these teachers and to a lesser extent within the metaphysical context of the particular minority group.

Based on and in accordance with the findings, certain recommendations are made. The recommendations are directed mostly towards the ecological context of these teachers and to a lesser extent towards the metaphysical context. Recommendations include: training, support of superiors towards the realisation of constructive interpersonal relationships and effective conflict management; and application of legislation and written policy, as well as the implementation and regular monitoring of recommendations. For example, the Department of Education should be made aware of the findings in order for the employer to take actual steps in order to combat psychological violence. By carrying out regular surveys (using the NAQ-R), the level of psychological violence can be regularly monitored. Training, for example how to handle the most-experienced forms of psychological violence, interpersonal competency training, and conflict management and assertiveness training may assist targeted persons and employers to handle and control psychological violence more effectively. Superiors and targeted persons should also receive more support. The employer has a duty towards the employee to implement measures to combat psychological violence and legislation also ought to provide for minority rights to protect minority groups against psychological violence and therefore to address the ecological (juridical) context of the minority group mentioned. The Department should implement legislation and policy measures more strictly to address psychological violence on the ecological level and to denounce the perpetrators and, in so doing, prevent the negative impact of psychological violence on the education system. Specific guidelines on departmental and school level include: the establishment of written policy; background investigation before new appointments are made to prevent the appointment of so-called serial perpetrators; use of qualified professional persons to evaluate the psychological stability of prospective teachers, school headmasters or school management teams; establishment of a committee that specifically addresses workplace aggression and to establish a more supportive environment for targeted persons; provision for anonymous reporting of incidents of psychological violence so that it can be addressed before it escalates to the other four contexts of targeted persons’ existence (psychological, biological, spiritual and metaphysical); exit interviews to determine whether resignations ensue from psychological violence and collect statistics that can be related to psychological violence, such as personnel absenteeism, personnel turnover, complaints and disciplinary action. Finally, the implementation of correctional and/or proactive steps should be regularly monitored to determine its effect on the problem and the behaviour of perpetrators. Based on the holistic ecosystemic theory and given that the five contexts of human existence are intra- and interactive, it can be expected that the application of recommendations within the ecological context will also have a positive impact on the other four contexts and consequently teaching as a whole.

Recommendations for future research include that the NAQ-R also be used in future quantitative studies in order to make possible comparative studies nationally between sectors as well as internationally, and that a more in-depth investigation on the relationship between biographical detail and psychological violence be carried out to determine whether some ethnic groups are more exposed to psychological violence. Psychological violence ensuing from learners should also be further investigated. The inference can be made that the findings and recommendations presented in this article can contribute to providing information that can be useful for the enhancement of teachers’ health at schools in South Africa.

Keywords: Free State; high school; perpetrator; psychological violence; quantitative research; target; teachers

Lees die volledige artikel in Afrikaans: Hoërskool-onderwysers in die Vrystaat se ervaring van psigologiese geweld

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