Stuck in the middle : a narrative case study examining middle school teachers’ feelings about addressing mental illness-related behaviors in the classroom.


In recent years, middle school teachers began to take on the additional task of providing mental health support to their students. They diverted from teaching to address disruptive behaviors that occurred in their classrooms. Mental illness and associated behaviors continued to cause growing concerns. The following research study explored the feelings of four middle school teachers as they resolved crises that involved emotionally driven and aggressive behaviors that presented as out of the norm or as the result of a mental illness in some students. The researcher explored what middle school teachers felt as they addressed the severe behaviors. The researcher highlighted teachers’ perspectives driven by their involvement in this phenomenon. This case study employed a narrative and instrumental approach. The primary sources of data collection included semi-structured interviews through Zoom, and documentation reviews of the teachers’ referrals submitted to the guidance counselors that indicated the students’ need for emotional support. Albert Bandura’s social cognitive theory served as the theoretical framework for the study. Bandura’s theory supported the idea that when teachers observed behaviors driven by mental illness, the behaviors directly affected their feelings, perceptions, and attitudes and potentially prepared teachers to address the next crises more effectively. The social cognitive theory also promoted the idea of direct experiences as a learning method when individuals exposed themselves to a situation. The researcher’s goal was for the supporting literature and findings of this study to increase awareness and concern for teachers as they involve themselves in the adolescent mental health phenomenon. The study aimed to close gaps in the existing literature and address teacher perceptions about their responsibility to address severe behaviors. Results revealed a consensus among the four participants. Each teacher reported the lack of mental health training from their school districts. The participants also consistently indicated that they lacked and desired support from their school districts as they took on the responsibility of addressing their students’ symptoms and behaviors. Half of the teachers reported burnout due to the intensity of their students’ behaviors and symptoms, and three of the participants related to inadequacy in some way.



Mental illness. Adolescents. Middle school teachers.