Class­room vi­o­lence grows more com­plex

Un­less we ad­dress the broader so­cial is­sues, the prob­lem will only per­sist

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - LINDA CHENOWETH Linda Chenoweth lives in Hamil­ton

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.

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