Teaching in Violent Communities

Teachers in violent communities are at risk for breakdowns in global meaning, burnout, and a number of psychiatric consequences. Using a Spanish version of the Integration of Stressful Life Experiences Scale (ISLES-S), a study published in the International Journal of Stress Management provided a preliminary test of the instrument and examined the role of meaning made of a salient stressor among a sample of 257 teachers from El Salvador who had experienced a variety of possible traumas and stressful life events. Study participants completed a one-time questionnaire with the ISLES-S, history of violence exposure and other background concerns, and a number of related constructs from the positive psychology and spirituality literatures. Psychometric results indicted evidence of concurrent validity and supported a two-factor structure for the ISLES-S with items loading on both a Comprehensibility factor (gauging meaning made via assimilative processes) and a Footing in the World factor (gauging meaning made via accommodative processes). In addition, when controlling for demographic factors, violence exposure, and related constructs, teachers’ ability to make meaning of their identified stressors was uniquely associated with less burnout and psychiatric symptomatology. In summary, study findings provide support for the further implementation of the ISLES-S in research and clinical contexts in Central America and highlight the relevance of meaning making for teachers and other helping professionals who must contend with the threat/effects of violence by virtue of their profession.

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