Stability and variability in relationships with early elementary teachers: Longitudinal effects for children at risk

Restricted (Penn State Only)
Lee, Phyllis
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
June 03, 2015
Committee Members:
  • Karen Linn Bierman, Dissertation Advisor
  • Karen Linn Bierman, Committee Chair
  • Pamela Marie Cole, Committee Member
  • Jenae Marie Neiderhiser, Committee Chair
  • Scott David Gest, Committee Member
  • student-teacher relationships
  • school
  • social-emotional development
When children enter elementary school, teachers become prominent figures in shaping social-emotional development. Most studies have examined the effects of relationships with one teacher during a single school year; however, children typically experience different teachers each year. The quality of a child’s relationships with multiple teachers across school years is moderately stable in general but can be quite variable for some children, which raises questions about the impact of variability in student-teacher relationship quality across multiple school years on children’s social-emotional development. Furthermore, the quality of support from teachers may have differential effects for children entering elementary school with different levels of aggression risk. This study used multilevel modeling to capture intra-individual variability in student-teacher relationships for 164 children followed longitudinally from kindergarten through third grade, and found that many children experienced variability in closeness and conflict with teachers. Regression analyses revealed that variability in conflict predicted increased aggression and decreased prosocial behaviors in fifth grade, beyond the mean level of conflict and controlling for pre-kindergarten adjustment. For children with low levels of aggression before kindergarten entry, variability in closeness predicted increased aggression and decreased emotion regulation in fifth grade, beyond the mean level of closeness and controlling for pre-kindergarten adjustment.