“A student threw a stapler at my head today when I said they couldn’t have a hall pass. I have a big bruise on my forehead and I can’t stop shaking. This is my first year teaching and I don’t know if I can handle it. How do I return to school tomorrow when I’m so upset and scared?”
That’s just one of many posts I’ve seen in teacher groups on social media lately. Violence against teachers happens in schools every day. Teachers are in emotional distress and are in physical danger on a regular basis. The scariest part? There’s a real, “That’s just part of the job,” attitude from the administration, parents, fellow teachers, and the public. We need to put an end to this because it’s NOT okay.
Violence against teachers is an epidemic.
A survey from the American Psychological Association Classroom Violence Directed Against Teachers Task Force found that 44% of teachers report being physically attacked by students. More than half of the teachers surveyed experienced the destruction of personal property by students (computer, car, phone, jacket, home, etc.). A whopping 75% of teachers said they’d been verbally harassed by a student in some way during the past year.
Here are just some of the violence teachers deal with from students on a regular basis:
- Physical attacks, including hitting, kicking, punching, biting, shoving, and hair pulling
- Being spit at
- Having items thrown at them
- Being screamed at
- Being cursed at
- Receiving death threats
- Experiencing the destruction of classroom items as well as personal belongings
- Being stalked and harassed by students outside of school
- Having pets, children, spouses, friends, and colleagues threatened
- Being mocked and made fun of for a wide variety of reasons
- Having vicious rumors and lies spread throughout the school or community
- Being stolen from
Violence against teachers isn’t just a problem with older students. Elementary teachers are being bitten, kicked, punched, stabbed with scissors, and more.
Violence against teachers is NOT “part of the job.”
If you walked into Starbucks and punched the barista in the face someone would quickly call the police. You might even get tackled by a good samaritan to prevent you from dishing out more violence. If you screamed at your doctor and threatened to kill them, you’d be banned from returning from the office. The police would most likely be called and you’d probably find yourself with charges pressed against you and a restraining order barring you from any contact with the doctor.
Yet teachers are expected to just take threats and abuse from students. A teacher’s job is to TEACH. Being terrorized isn’t part of any teacher’s job description. We urge our friends and loved ones to leave toxic situations, but shame teachers for not being able to handle student aggression. No one should feel unsafe at work.
Teachers, you have to stop normalizing abuse.
Most of the comments about the student throwing a stapler at the teacher’s head were blaming the teacher. These comments were from other teachers:
Just a stapler? You had an easy day.
You need to grow a thicker skin.
If you’re this shaken up already, maybe you’re not cut out for the job.
Why would you deny a student a hallpass?
You need to ask for more classroom management training.
This is what it’s like to be a teacher in 2020.
Get used to it.
Suck it up, buttercup.
It breaks my heart that teachers just entering the field are being told to expect and accept violence. It’s such a common occurrence it’s become normal for so many teachers. But it’s not normal and it shouldn’t be tolerated.
Teachers, it’s not your fault.
- I should have paid more attention during the de-escalation in-service training.
- That child is easily triggered. I should have known that would set them off.
- I‘m the adult and should have kept my cool.
- This wouldn’t have happened if I stayed calmer.
- It wasn’t worth the battle. I should have just given in.
- I should have paid more attention to the warning signs.
NO! Nothing you did or didn’t do makes it your fault if someone attacked you. It doesn’t matter if that person is a romantic partner, family member, stranger on the streets, or a student. Do not blame yourself for violence another person – adult or child – acts out on you. It isn’t your fault. Abuse is never the victim’s fault – and yes, dear teacher friends, we’re way too often the victims of abuse by students.
Students’ safety and wellbeing isn’t more important than teachers’.
Yup, I said what I said. We talk so much about how to make students feel safe and comfortable in our schools. Student mental health is a priority. Schools have “no tolerance” policies when it comes to bullying other students. But what about teachers? Teachers deserve to feel safe and comfortable at school, too. The mental health of teachers is important. Teachers shouldn’t be bullied by anyone – coworker, administrator, or student.
“Hurt people hurt people” doesn’t make it okay.
The saying “hurt people hurt people” is so true. Children who are hurting lash out. Students may be aggressive, cruel, disrespectful, or violent due to trauma, mental health issues, special needs, or situations in their home life. These circumstances are often heartbreaking. Teachers have giant hearts that ache for what our students are going through. That doesn’t mean we should be punching bags – literally or figuratively. The most loving and caring response is to protect your boundaries and make it clear you won’t tolerate violence.
Violence against teachers happens beyond school walls.
Teachers are bullied, harassed, and threatened by students online, too. This is also unacceptable and shouldn’t be tolerated. Many teachers have been attacked by students outside of school. Students have shown up at their house threatening them, and vandalizing their property. Teachers have had animals killed by students and their homes set on fire. Aggression can escalate quickly and shouldn’t be brushed off.
What can teachers do if they’ve been harassed, threatened, or attacked by a student?
Teachers, please do not accept violence from students (or anyone else). The South Florida Sun Sentinal did an in-depth investigation into student violence against teachers. They found that in an 18 month period more than 100 students in Florida had threatened to kill their teachers, classmates, or themselves at school. As we know, some students do carry through with these threats.
If you’ve been threatened, harassed, or attacked by a student:
- Document everything. Keep an incident log. Write emails to administration and others involved so you have a paper trail. Save any notes or emails the student sends. Pass them on to administration immediately (via email). Take photos of any damage to your classroom, property, or body. Email that to administration also.
- Demand administration take action. Be firm and do not accept anything that leaves you feeling unsafe, uncomfortable, or unprotected.
- Don’t hesitate to move up the ladder. Go to the district office. Contact the superintendent.
- Reach out to the union right away. Keep them informed of everything that is happening – with the violent student, as well as the response from administration.
- Call the police. If you’re being attacked or feel in danger, don’t hesitate to call for help. You are important. Your experience matters. You deserve to be safe.
- Decide when to leave the situation. You’d tell your best friend to leave an abusive relationship or toxic job. “RUN!” you’d say. Follow your own wisdom. Don’t hesitate to quit your job to protect yourself if necessary.
Teachers, please don’t be a statistic. Your mental health, physical wellbeing, and life are important. It’s up to you to stand up for yourself, because, sadly, many teachers don’t get the support and protection required to prevent tragedy from happening.