School Climate & Safety

The Hard-Knock (and Downright Dangerous) Lives of Teachers

By Ross Brenneman — November 20, 2013 3 min read
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The Associated Press this week reports on the dangers teachers face on a daily basis.

“When a 16-year-old student slammed a metal trash can onto Philip Raimondo’s head, it did more than break open the history teacher’s scalp, knock him out, and send him bleeding to the floor,” the Associated Press writes.

Violence against teachers isn’t new ground, it’s just progressively sadder ground dampened by further bloodshed. In September, the Teaching Now Blog’s Hana Maruyama wrote about other recent physical assaults on teachers, including incidents in Kansas City, Mo.; Los Angeles; Georgia; the Brooklyn borough of New York ...

A master’s degree in teaching does not confer upon the recipient any form of invisible shield. It does not bestow super strength or airbags. Teachers are no more immune to a violent climate than their school’s students, and yet they’re in a position to have a vastly greater influence, both positive and negative, than a single student likely is.

Earlier this month, I wrote about the Broward County, Fla., community-wide agreement that would establish the point at which police should become involved in school discipline issues; it’s basically a flow chart. Everyone in Broward County, based on the enthusiasm expressed at multiple events pertaining to the agreement’s adoption, seems thrilled. But some were quick to point out that discipline is a reaction to an event, not a proactive solution. Or, in less diplomatic terms:

While Porter might not model tactfulness, his critique reflects the same problem that plagues teachers: ensuring good student behavior.

Now, to be fair to Broward County, it’s not ignoring the roots of student misbehavior. I followed up with Superintendent Robert Runcie, and he noted several school district initiatives meant to address those problems. But first among those, he said, was getting administrators to understand an issue existed.

“Until we started to present that data and have some courageous conversations with principals in the district, many did not even comprehend the magnitude of the problem,” Runcie said.

He added that the district has an office of student support initiatives, which helps improve the district’s positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS), as well as conflict-resolution programs and mentoring.

“We’ve stepped up our strategies for providing case workers, family counselors, doing a more coordinated effort with social services agencies, to provide the kind of wraparound services our students need at an early age,” he said.

Not all schools are implementing, perhaps, the best approaches to improving behavior (specifically, encouraging bullying to discourage bullying, in one Colorado charter), but schools are coming around to improving behavior, including through such programs as Project SEATBELT, or with, um, math.

At the same time, though, social-emotional learning, the kind that helps reduce bullying, lacks priority in many schools. Additionally, according to Kwok-Sze Wong, the executive director of the American School Counselor Association, only 20 percent of children with mental disorders are identified and receive mental health services each year, and yet the sequester cut federal funding for counseling programs. And while the AP story mentioned above cites a “recently” formed national task force that recommended a national registry of incidents of violence against teachers, that recommendation came in January, based on a report from 2011. Maybe the AP adds some momentum to that call to action, but even if so, that recommendation is about data collection—useful for the future, but not the present. Violence against teachers lacks more in national action than in national coverage.

If funding doesn’t show up for any of those solutions, though, at least removing every school’s trash cans is cheap.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.