Classroom violence grows more complex
Unless we address the broader social issues, the problem will only persist
I left teaching (via early retirement) with the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board as an elementary school teacher almost five years ago. I taught almost 25 years, from 1989 until 2012. One of the reasons I left teaching was the increasing violence in schools and how it was negatively affecting my health, my safety, my ability to teach and the health and safety of the children I taught and their learning environment.
My parents were teachers also, so I heard about how education had been since the 1920s, and I saw how it changed over the span of my teaching career.
As society changed and evolved, so have education and schools, classrooms, teachers, parents and students. Schools have evolved from “one-room school houses,” with one teacher teaching all grades. Back then, behaviour problems were rare and parents had the attitude that “if you got into trouble at school, you were also in trouble at home.” There was little violence.
Over the years more children were born with problems or developed them. Currently schools are comprised of numerous “one-room schoolhouses.” There are many students with psychological and behavioural issues. Often there is still just one teacher, without support from an educational assistant. Students with “special issues” often lash out in physically aggressive behaviours. Attitudes toward parenting are more permissive and have produced students who have difficulty following instruction, waiting their turn to speak and with other self-regulatory skills. Parents are ready to blame the schools and the teacher before they even ask about the issue at hand.
Over my teaching career, I had a gun — that turned out to be a toy-like replica — pointed at me when I was six-months pregnant by a student who threatened to “blow my f-----g brains out.” Another time, again while I was pregnant, I had to control a student who was swinging a skipping rope over his head chasing another student threatening to “kill him.” I had a rock thrown at my face barely missing my eye and witnessed a mother chasing her daughter down the hall with a knife. Aggressive altercations with parents toward teachers increased over the years also.
At one point in my career, a specialized “behaviour class” was opened at the school I was teaching at. I was told I would have to provide preparation coverage for the teacher of that classroom and I would have to teach students with behaviour issues. I was given no choice, no education and no training on how to deal with these kinds of students. During that year, I was threatened, spat on and I had to break up numerous physical altercations between students. In one situation, while trying to intervene when a boy was strangling another one, all three of us fell into a pile on the floor. The perpetrator pulled my hair and spat in my face as we untangled.
As a person that is highly sensitive and goes into sensory overload very easily, I was overwhelmed with this situation. I couldn’t sleep, was anxious all the time and got very depressed. My doctor put me on medication. I told the principal and the behaviour consultants that I was afraid for my physical safety. But to no avail. By the end of the year, I was in personal crisis and had to take the following year off to get back to some psychological wellness.
As violent behaviours increased, Violent Incident Reports were introduced by both the board and the teacher’s union. This past year, the union spoke out about “the violence in classrooms.” Recently, a Durham Region teacher did an interview with Global TV. Finally someone is talking about one of the elephants in the room in education. Teachers are hit, kicked, spat on and sworn at, and threatened by parents. This is the reality of being a teacher in today’s society. Informing the school administrators, the board officials or the union has been ineffective in addressing school violence.
As a society, we have social issues that have lead us to the problems we currently have, so it follows that the schools and students have problems also. Until we address issues like poverty, affordable housing, parenting, pollution, and nutrition and have effective mental health work happening in our schools, these problems will persist, if not get worse.
Me, I am happy grooming cats and dogs now!
Elementary school students and their teacher. Retired Hamilton teacher Linda Chenoweth argues in order to make classrooms safer for everyone, problems outside school, such as poverty and housing, need serious attention.