Violence Against Teachers: A Silent National Crisis
All educators are at risk
Despite the cost and size of this problem, very little is known about factors that lead to teacher victimization. More research is needed to better understand the causes and correlates of teacher victimization.
How Big Is the Problem?
Each year, 253,100 (7 percent) teachers are threatened with injury and they can be divided into the following categories by:
109,800 (43 percent) in cities
78,100 (31 percent) in suburbs
27,500 (11 percent) in towns
37,700 (15 percent) in rural areas
139,400 (55 percent) in secondary schools
113,700 (45 percent) in elementary schools
78,500 (31 percent) male teachers
174,500 (69 percent) female teachers
Each year, 127,500 (3 percent) of teachers are physically attacked by students (National Survey in 2003-2004).
What Are the Costs of Teacher Victimization?
There is a cascade of costs, both obvious and hidden due to:
Lost days of work (927,000 per year)
Need for training and replacement of teachers leaving the school or profession prematurely
Lost instructional time
Medical and psychological care resulting from threats and assaults
Student disciplinary proceedings involving school, police, judicial systems, social services and parents
Increased workers’ compensation claims and premiums
Incarceration of perpetrators
The nationwide costs of teacher victimization to teachers, parents, and taxpayers are calculated to exceed $2 billion annually.
These costs do not include costs to and incurred by those who commit violence against teachers, such as substantially higher dropout rates, government assistance, medical care and social services throughout their lifespan.
We Know About School Violence, Which May Be Related to Teacher Victimization
What Can I Do to Create a Positive, Safe Environment that Fosters Learning in my Classroom?
Implement classroom-based, school-wide violence prevention programs so that teachers and students learn effective strategies for solving problems peacefully.
For information about empirically supported programs and resources see:
Use available resources for classroom management. An excellent resource for classroom management is the Center for Psychology in Schools and Education (CPSE).
Use Effective Classroom Management Practices
Clearly state rules
Model and reward positive behavior, e.g., Positive Behavior Supports (PBS)
Pick your battles judiciously
Show students you care about each of them and be sure to verbalize your caring about students as individual learners. (“Pat, I am really concerned and care about how you did on your math test.”)
Minimize transition times
a. Use advance organizers
b. Reduce uncertainties about what is expected
c. Be flexible
Provide students with opportunities to make meaningful choices
Do not let rigid rule interpretation trump common sense
Notice any variances in student mood, behavior
A void confrontation in front of other students. (Instead, say “let’s talk after class.”)
Teach, model, and cue problem solving, empathy, conflict resolution, impulse control, anger management
Validate students’ perspectives and avoid blaming
Don’t make assumptions about causes of problems; consider underlying issues
Promote Academic Engagement
Link daily lessons to life and needs of students; demonstrate relevancy
Create expectations of success for all students
Give students specific feedback about what they did right
Structure a learning task in a way that sustains engagement (i.e., make it interesting!)
Maintain privacy of student assessments, including grades
Engage students in cooperative learning
Maximize instructional time and keep students on task
Build on students’ strengths
What Are Possible Precursors to Violence?
Circumstances or situations can trigger disruption and rage:
A breakup with boy/girl friend
Death/suicide of family member, friend, classmate or community member
Arrest of a parent or caregiver
Parent separation and/or divorce
Family member fighting in war
Prejudice (homophobia, racism, bigotry)
Physical factors (hunger, allergies, gastrointestinal issues, sleep deprivation)
Exposure to violence, aggression, bullying and/or gang conflict
Abuse (physical, sexual and emotional)
Strained relationship between teacher and students
Peer isolation or ostracization
Note. Currently there is little empirical research on possible precursors.
How Might I Respond to Warning Signs?
- Acknowledge the student (e.g., “It seems like you are upset,” “What can I do to help you?”) and offer help and support
- Consult with school personnel
- Redirect student to an alternative task
- Use a calm, positive tone of voice when redirecting student conflicts; avoid confrontational language
- Give students two or three choices of academic tasks to manage behavior and increase success
- Show encouragement when students struggle with social and/or academic issues
- Use verbal praise intermittently in class and when students become reengaged
- Restate expectations and classroom rules
- Make certain that you are reinforcing the targeted behavior you desire in your classroom
- Use humor, but not sarcasm, to defuse conflicts
- Redirect the class into positive new activities and take structured breaks
- Move close enough to student to engage or redirect behavior (3-5 feet), yet respect student’s personal space and property
What if I Am Threatened by a Student in the Classroom?
Implement the school safety plan
If the school safety plan does not provide immediate support or assistance
Isolate the student
Remove other students from the area if you cannot isolate the student
Allow cool-down time
Document the incident
Resume your regular schedule
How Can I Take Care of Myself After the Incident?
- Take a few slow, deep breaths
- Use self-talk to calm yourself down
- Recognize this is a big deal — you have been through a traumatic event, and it’s normal to be upset
- Do not blame yourself
- Seek social support from colleagues, friends and family
- Seek social support from school administrators and/or union representative
- Monitor signs of personal distress that may occur afterwards (e.g., trouble sleeping, concentrating, anxiety, irritability, tearfulness, lack of appetite)
- Access a mental health professional if needed
- Talk to your principal about having a plan in place to deal with similar issues proactively in the future
Remember these tips
Note any change in students’ emotional and/or behavioral functioning.
Always consider social, cultural, and linguistic factors when judging student and adult behavior.
Remember you are not alone! Talk with a trusted colleague, mentor, administrator or union representative and get outside assistance when needed.