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Characteristics of an Effective Prevention Teacher


Characteristics of an Effective Prevention Teacher


By Mary-Kate Brissett (Sagamore Institute Faith in Communities, 2004)


Linda Christensen, in her guide You Can Make a Difference: Characteristics & Skills of the Effective Prevention Teacher (Hazelden Foundation, 1992), encourages educators to promote prevention in the classroom and guides them through that process in a concise and readable way.  In the section “Characteristics of the Effective Prevention Teacher,” Christensen begins by denying the popular belief that educators are meant to teach reading, math, science, and other academic subjects and not to breach the world of alcohol and drug prevention.  Some educators believe alcohol and drug use is a very separate area of children’s lives than what they are responsible for.  However, she argues, alcohol and drug use has an overwhelming effect on children’s performance in school. 


Christensen relies on research to warn teachers against making prevention simply another subject for the classroom.  Simply giving information on drugs and alcohol, although an important part of prevention, is not nearly enough.  It implies that substance use and abuse is a cognitive and limited area, whereas it is in fact complex, vast, and always value- and emotionally-laden.  Christensen offers a less simplistic approach, allowing for the affective-emotional aspects of substance use, and hopefully fostering an attitude of respect and trust between teacher and student.  Teachers who desire to educate their students effectively in substance abuse prevention must aim to:


Be Motivated – Just as teachers become teachers because of a love for children, for an academic subject, or for education in general, so teachers who desire to encourage prevention must develop an interest in and concern about this area of children’s lives. 


Be Patient – Prevention is not something that is taught or learned in a week.  Just as reading is a part of education from the beginning until the end, so prevention is a subject students require year after year and need adjusted for their age and situation, according to Christensen.  Part of effectively reaching kids is developing relationships with them and helping them through difficult times.  This is something that requires much patience.


Bond with Students -- Children whose relationships with their families, teachers, or peers are not fulfilling will seek fulfillment in other areas.  Christensen explains that these children do not feel bonded to the important people in their life and are at high-risk for drug and alcohol problems.  For them, drugs and/or alcohol will provide a glimpse of the pleasure that most of us find in meaningful relationships. Teachers who wish to be effective in prevention must form good relationships with their students.  Christensen’s research reveals four important characteristics for teachers who wish to develop good teacher-student relationships:


·    authentic interest in student and attentiveness to him or her,

·    respect between the teacher and student,

·    honesty, and

·    good rapport.


Teachers who maintain a welcoming and friendly attitude also help relationships between students grow stronger which aids in prevention as well. 


Be a Positive Role Model – Teachers who wish to send an effective prevention message must use alcohol and drugs responsibly in their own lives.  Their actions must be a testament to prevention.  Christensen suggests that students who respect this teacher will desire to model themselves on him or her. 


Give a Clear and Congruent Message About Alcohol and Other Drugs – Some teachers display attitudes that can undermine prevention. For example, teachers might be too permissive – excusing or minimizing the significance of students’ use of substances. Or teachers might be judgmental – labeling students who use as weak or bad or punishing students who use without trying to get them help. Or teachers might be moralistic – equating students’ use with moral failure or weakness or as indicating moral problems in other areas of life. These attitudes, which students can in the media or among teachers, family, and peers, confuse the messages students receive about alcohol and drugs.  Because our cultural rules about alcohol and drugs are often confusing anyway, Christensen explains that teachers must work to communicate a very clear message to students that any amount of alcohol or drug use for teenagers is illegal and dangerous. She urges teachers to point out the natural consequences of drug and alcohol use (on students’ minds, bodies, and relationships) as well as other logical consequences (e.g., those that will unfold if students are caught by school, family, or legal authorities).  However, in order for students to respect and remain open to teachers, teachers must refrain from a harsh or militant attitude concerning users, especially since many students will have adults who misuse alcohol or drugs in their lives.  Teachers who wish to learn more and develop a more empathic attitude should visit an Alcoholics Anonymous or Al-Anon meeting in their area. 


Be Credible and Trustworthy – Teachers must always ensure that the facts they present about substance use are accurate. They need to keep in mind, though, that teenagers and children are much more concerned with the present than they are with long-term consequences of their actions.  Often, short-term negative consequences of drug and alcohol use are more meaningful to them than long-term, even if more serious, consequences.  Further, although teachers must be effective resources for drug education, Christensen warns them against giving students the kind of information that could arouse their curiosity concerning drugs and alcohol. 


Christensen encourages teachers to develop these characteristics in order to effectively communicate a message of prevention to their students.  In this way, they will be forming strong relationships with their students and helping prepare them for successful lives.


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Curriculum in a Box: Middle School Confidential

Winthrop and Munchie Talk About Alcohol

You Can Make a Difference: Characteristics & Skills of the Effective Prevention Teacher

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