As if teachers don’t already have enough to contend with beside teaching their subject matter, they are increasingly worried about their own physical safety (“Student faces sentencing in attempted sex assault on teacher,” The New York Post, Mar. 14). I’m not talking about outsiders. According to federal data, 5.8 percent of the nation’s 3.8 million teachers were physically attacked by a student in the 2015-16 school year. Almost 10 percent were threatened with injury. Yet more is written about students’ rights.
How did things get so bad? I trace the root of the problem to the student rights revolution of the 1960s. Prior to that time, teachers acted in loco parentis. But in 1965, lawyers began suing schools for disciplining students in a move backed by the federal government and philanthropic behemoths. In 1975, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Goss v. Lopez that students had the right to due-process protections for even the most minor aspects of school discipline. Not surprisingly, schools began to walk on eggs when student misbehavior was involved.
We are reaping the results. When I was in public school, teachers were always respected, even if they were not especially liked. That meant following instructions and never talking back. Assaulting a teacher was unheard of. The criticism aimed at discipline policies is that they allegedly create a school-to-prison pipeline, particularly for black students who are suspended or expelled at higher rates than white students. But white students are disciplined at higher rates than Asian students. Does that mean schools are anti-white?
I believe that without decorum, learning is almost impossible. That goes for students of all races. When teachers fear for their own safety, they can’t possibly do their job. Even if they recover from physical injuries, they are psychologically damaged. According to the American Psychological Association, the nationwide costs of victimization of teachers exceeds $2 billion annually, which is why disruptive students must be immediately removed from classrooms without fear of a lawsuit.
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4 Replies to “Student assaults on teachers”
Again, big difference between Massachusetts and Florida. In one city, in which I am very familiar with, it has a very simple policy. From 1st grade through high school, if you a cause a problem twice, you are removed from that school and placed in an off-campus alternative school. Many schools in MA have a large number of support services which really helps the students from reaching a dangerous situation. It is the complete opposite in FL. Unfortunately, children and education are not a priority.
I believe that something has happened with a student before they reach a point of assaulting a teacher. There were signals that were ignored.
Also, attention will be achieved either positively or negatively.
John: I wish more states adopted policies whereby students who are repeat offenders are removed from class and placed in special schools. The opposite is happening. Administrators are reluctant to do so out of fear they will be sued. This is particularly the case if disparate impact can be proved. Teachers in many inner-city schools live in fear of being assaulted physically or of being disrespected verbally. It’s a sad commentary, which I trace back to the student rights movement of the 1960s.
Completely agree that minor but endemic misbehavior is a huge and growing problem, particularly in the low-SES/inner-city neighborhood schools. Not as sure re physical attacks on teachers — are teachers being attacked by students at a higher rate today than 10, 30 or 50 years ago? Have not seen stats re this and the anecdotal evidence — that is, teachers I have spoken with myself — report a lot of minor misbehavior but do not report physical attacks on teachers.
Agree that court decisions recognizing student due-process rights have contributed to the endemic misbehavior. However, my view is that the problem there is not so much the court decisions as school administrators being overly cautious in reaction to the court decisions — that is, administrators far too often err on the side of tolerating misbehavior out of an unwarranted fear of a law suit.
More basically, however, I attribute the increase in student misbehavior to evolving attitudes on the part of administrators and teachers towards misbehaving students. Many — perhaps most — administrators and teachers in low-SES/inner-city schools (where misbehavior is most widespread) now believe that the misbehavior is caused by societal conditions, that the misbehaving students therefore should not be held responsible for their misbehavior and accordingly that it is morally wrong/unfair to impose discipline for minor misbehavior by low-SES/minority students. This, again, is based on anecdotal evidence — my conversations with teachers and, to a lesser extent, on reading books written by inner-city teachers/administrators.
Finally, I blame some of the increase in student misbehavior on the elimination of tracking. This occurred around the same time as the court decisions recognizing student due process rights, so it would be almost impossible to separate the effects of the two on student misbehavior. In my opinion, the underlying cause of student misbehavior — at least the minor but endemic misbehavior — is either student frustration or student boredom. When the school systems eliminated tracking, the school systems effectively guaranteed that in most classes — particularly in the low-SES/inner-city schools — there would be a large number of students who would find the instruction to be either too hard or too easy, with the inevitable result of students becoming frustrated or bored.
Labor Lawyer: Teachers no longer can act in loco parentis as a result of Goss v. Lopez. Students have to commit the most egregious acts to be expelled. Teacher morale is at an all-time low, and I see little hope of it improving unless teachers regain the authority they once had. I totally agree with you that so much misbehavior is the result of boredom. When students see no connection between what they are studying and their interests, they act out. Tracking would help eliminate that outcome. But it is seen as “elitist” by critics.