Charles Bell, Illinois State University
Ten percent. That’s the proportion of K-12 teachers in the United States who say they’ve been physically attacked by a student, according to a new survey.
Various news outlets have reported what has been described as a “surge of student misconduct” since students returned from distance learning to in-person instruction. The alleged increase in student misconduct is part of a rising trend in student assaults on teachers. The percentage of teachers who have been attacked by students has risen from 6% to 10% over the past decade, according to federal data.
As school districts across the country report critical teacher shortages, some people worry that attacks on teachers will drive qualified applicants away from the profession. Such concerns are well founded.
In my research interviews with high school teachers who were assaulted by students, I learned first-hand from teachers that such assaults have a negative effect on their morale and make them want to quit their jobs.
As I point out in my book Suspended: Punishment, Violence, and the Failure of School Safety, attacks leave teachers traumatized. In some cases, educators told me that they had started smuggling weapons into school after being attacked.
The teachers also told me that they felt like the principals didn’t have their backs. In fact, several teachers who have been attacked by students have expressed fear of retaliation from administrators.
Why wouldn’t a principal support a teacher who reports being assaulted? The teachers informed me that the principals feared that their schools would have a bad reputation, which could make it more difficult to recruit new teachers and students. At least one school in my study was unable to recruit substitute teachers because the school had a reputation for violence between students and staff.
When teachers reported to principals that they had been victimized by students, principals downplayed their concerns, teachers said. Principals also emphasized what the teacher had or had not done before the attack.
Call for tougher laws
Over the past decade, teachers have urged policy makers to create legislation that addresses violent student behavior. Teachers have spoken publicly about how being attacked by students has hampered their ability to teach effectively.
Lawmakers have tried to come up with tougher laws to deter violence against teachers. However, many bills fail due to fears that the bills will erode students’ right to due process. In turn, as I discovered in my book, many teachers feel helpless because violent students are allowed to stay in their classrooms.
For example, in Connecticut, Public Law 18-89 would have allowed teachers to have students removed from their classrooms if those students engaged in acts of violence. It would also have allowed teachers to set the standards for the student’s return to class.
Although this proposal received substantial support in the House and Senate of Connecticut, the government of the day. Dannel Malloy vetoed the bill, arguing that it ran counter to his efforts to reduce exclusion from the classroom and to cut the school-to-jail pipeline.
Minnesota’s Teacher Protection Act reportedly compelled public schools to expel students who assaulted teachers. But the legislation failed to gain traction due to fierce opposition from Education Minnesota – a nonprofit that represents educators. This particular organization wanted to prioritize restorative justice initiatives that seek to keep students in school to make amends rather than seeing students suspended or expelled.
Thus, the challenge for policy makers and administrators is to find a way to protect teachers without compromising students’ right to due process. The well-being and stability of the American teaching profession depends on finding the right balance.
Charles Bell, Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice Sciences, Illinois State University
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.