Written by: Cally Worden
Results from a recent survey of more than 1500 members of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) suggested that more than 50% of state school teachers faced some form of student aggression during the last school year. 45% of these cases involved physical aggression. Incredibly, the survey also revealed that 27% of teachers who took the survey had experienced aggression from parents and carers.
Teachers are trained and employed to impart information to students in a manner that helps them to learn, grow, and develop as individuals. Part of their role involves classroom management, but that was never meant to include personal self-defence. Personally the idea of simply containing thirty hormone-ridden adolescents, let alone trying to teach them anything, is enough to put me off the idea of entering the profession at senior school level. Hats off to those who step into the breach. They have my deep respect and admiration.
Not all students are difficult or challenging, but the statistics from this survey suggest that the possibility of a teacher being subject to some kind of physical violence is not uncommon. As is so often the case, a significant minority are the cause of a significant majority of the issues. Respondents reported numerous incidences of pushing and shoving, and fewer but no less significant incidences of being kicked, punched, or attacked and hit with items of furniture.
Have Things Changed?
52% of the teachers participating in the survey believe that general behaviour has worsened over the last two years. 80% feel this shift is due to a declining level of societal respect for those in frontline jobs, such as teaching, nursing, or policing.
And it is not just teachers who are suffering. Aggressive youngsters are also turning their outbursts towards fellow students. And the problem is not confined to senior school age children. Primary teachers are also reporting incidences of physically aggressive behaviour.
In many, but not all, of these cases the child involved has a troubled home-life, or mental health issues. For children such as these school may offer an outlet for emotions that feel must otherwise be contained. But this still does not make it acceptable. Assistance with addressing these issues is vital if things are to improve. In this way the school can work with parents and other agencies to help each child reach their full potential without them feeling the need to lash out.
But with teachers receiving abuse from parents and carers as well a picture starts to emerge of where some of these behaviours are coming from. What’s the advert I saw recently? Children see – Children do. So true.
A child who witnesses physical violence in the home may watch the same parent verbally abusing a teacher. They then copy that behaviour, and in their impulsive child brain and body it is not a huge leap for verbal abuse to translate into violence. I’ve read of parents who shrug helplessly in the face of a teacher, claiming ‘I can’t control him/her’. I may be naive, but surely lessons on respect begin at home, before the child even reaches school? I would be mortified if either of my kids were even rude to a teacher, let alone physically abusive. And they know it too.
Time to Get a Grip
I know it’s not always clear-cut, and no two situations are ever the same. But to my mind parental responsibility has a huge role to play in teaching children that physical violence in any form is damaging and wrong. Whatever happened to self-respect, respect for others, and assertiveness in place of aggression? We can only hope it’s not too late for these values to be recovered on a more wide scale around the country once more.