Understanding the Truth About Violence Against Teachers

violence against teachers

This blog originally ran last month on the American Psychological Association’s “Psych Learning Curve: Where Psychology and Education Connect.” APA invited NEA Healthy Futures to comment on the issue of violence against teachers and share their resources and commitment to preventing and addressing violence directed at teachers.

We have all heard stories about teachers who have been assaulted and continue to work in fear that they may be victimized by one of their students. In fact 80% of teachers in a nation-wide survey reported being victimized at least once within the current or past school year.

There are different reactions to this occurrence, ranging from

“Why would anyone teach at that school?” and
“Some teachers just don’t know how to manage those kids” to “These children have been traumatized and just need the proper guidance and services.”

But what if you are a teacher in that school because you care? You know that these students need help and you are trying to do your part. What if you have managed classrooms full of students for years, but this time is something different? Then what?

School bus safetyIt is true that there is a growing understanding of how trauma and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) not only affect the brain and learning, but can lead to numerous behavior challenges, including aggression and impulse control. It is also a fact that for many years, male students of color, students with disabilities, and LGBTQ students have been disproportionately disciplined more frequently and more harshly than their peers, prompting the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education to release guidance on promoting supportive and preventative approaches to school discipline. 

Trauma-informed and restorative practices  in education and justice are becoming more widely used and have been acknowledged for their role in stemming what is referred to as the school-to-prison pipeline and building a more resilient and compassionate community. These are all important and necessary education and juvenile justice reforms and programs that should be implemented and replicated across the country. But what if you are a teacher right now, going to work today, knowing that you might face another physical or verbal threat from one of your students?

The American Psychological Association (APA) has been examining the issue of violence against teachers and has developed numerous resources to highlight and bring awareness to the issue, as well as to promote long-term solutions  to the problem facing teachers today.

Quick Tips for Educators

  • Note any change in students’ emotional and/or behavioral functioning.
  • Always consider social, cultural, and linguistic factors when judging student and adult behavior.
  • Remember you are not alone! Talk with a trusted colleague, mentor, administrator, or union representative and get outside assistance when needed.

Providing Support and Education for Teachers

together-handsNEA Healthy Futures has been working to educate our members about the myriad challenges facing students today, dealing with unprecedented levels of poverty and toxic and environmental stress. Member survey data confirm that most educators do not always identify or fully understand the different learning disabilities and behavioral disorders that can lead to disruptive behaviors.

We also know that each of us comes to a situation with our own internal biases that can affect our response to different behaviors. Teachers and school-employed personnel need to understand how to identify behavior issues, but also how to respond to and de-escalate aggressive behaviors. Suspension, expulsion, and involvement in the criminal justice system are not effective discipline tools and do not solve the problem. NEA is working to train our members in greater awareness of mental health issues and have developed a training on Addressing Behavior Challenges (ABC) throughout the school environment.

The shortage of quality teachers in high needs school districts and with high need populations has long been a serious challenge. Keeping quality teachers once you succeed in drawing them to the profession is a whole other challenge. We need to continue to do all we can to support and empower teachers with the proper skills and resources to address the needs of their students. This can be in the form of additional training and professional development, but can and should also be in the form of more school-based mental health professionals (school psychologists, school counselors, and school social workers) and other specialized instructional support personnel (SISP) to work with students to address any number of barriers to teaching and learning and to consult with school staff on how to approach and prevent challenging and even violent behavior.

Our teachers and school employed professionals deserve to be treated with respect; they deserve to work in a safe and supportive environment, just as much as our students deserve to be taught in asafe and supportive environment. Take action and speak up for the students and teachers who need more support, training and resources to address complex student issues and prevent violence in our schools and communities.

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