Comparison of Occupational Stress in Response to Challenging Behaviors between General and Special Education Primary Teachers in Northern Italy

Teachers’ job stress was related to several types of student behaviors in the classroom. Pepe and Addimando (2013) explored how students’ challenging behaviors affected general and special education teachers’ occupational stress. This study attempted to investigate job stress pertain to challenging behaviors in the classroom.

In their study, Pepe and Addimando recruited 306 in-service primary teachers (93.5% females, 6.5% males) in Italy. Among participants were 244 general education teachers and 62 special education teachers. Data were collected from a survey of the Challenging Students Standard Questionnaire for the measurement of teachers’ stress and students’ challenging behaviors.

In the survey, “occupational distress is methodologically operationalized as the informants’ reported experience of being bothered by pupils’ challenging behaviors in the classrooms” (Pepe & Addimando, 2013, p. 18). According to Pepe and Addimando, a challenging behavior refers to any student action that is perceived by the teacher to compete with or threaten the flow of academic performance in the classroom. This study assessed students’ challenging behaviors in six categories: against the grain (AG), full of activity/easily distractible (FA), need a lot of attention/weak (WS), easily upset (EU), excessive perfectionism (EP), and aggressive/hostile (AH). Within the categories, WS, EP, and EU were classified as internalized behaviors while AG, FA, and AH were externalized behaviors (Pepe & Addimando, 2013).

ANOVA and t-tests were performed to evaluate the data. The findings illustrated the differences of students’ challenging behaviors between general education and special education: General education teachers reported the most frequent challenging behavior as full of activity/easily distractible followed by need a lot of attention/weak. On opposite, the need a lot of attention/weak ranked first and full of activity/easily distractible ranked second by special education teachers. Both general and special education teachers claimed that the most significant stressor was students’ full of activity/easily distractible.

The investigation of student behavior was necessary to understand teachers’ job stress pertaining to classroom demands. According to Pepe and Addimando (2013), identifying the extent to which students’ behaviors contribute to teachers’ strain was still a challenge for educational psychology. Future studies are needed to add new knowledge to this area of research by investigating teachers’ classroom demand stressor related to students’ misbehavior and discipline problems.


Pepe, A., & Addimando, L. (2013). Comparison of occupational stress in response to challenging behaviors between general and special education primary teachers in Northern Italy. International Journal of Special Education, 28(1), 14-26.

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