Crisis in the classroom
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Crisis in the classroom

Violence in schools is certainly not a new phenomenon, nor is it uncommon. Violent incidents between students, while never acceptable, are almost expected. What many find difficult to understand is violence faced by educators in their line of work. Many argue that threats, physical violence, verbal harassment and property violence against teachers are now nearing a crisis level.

The Malta Union of Teachers has seen an increase in the number of reports from members experiencing aggressive behaviour in school. A survey it conducted reveals some staggering statistics about the provenance and incidence of classroom violence.

A good 87 per cent of those who responded to the teachers’ union survey confirmed they had experienced aggression at their respective schools. When questioned about the perpetrator, 75 per cent of teachers pointed their finger at students, 29 per cent at parents, 12 per cent at colleagues and nine per cent mentioned superiors. Even if the study may not have followed a strict scientific methodology, the results are shocking and call for immediate action by the educational authorities.

One can be simplistic in explaining these sobering results by arguing that schools today give little importance to discipline. There is, of course, some truth in such assertion. However, the causes of violence and victimisation of educators have more profound causes.

Some will comment that students who are aggressive towards their teachers have been traumatised in their families and just need the proper guidance and services. Once again, this is a reality that needs to be addressed by the education authorities providing better support for teachers in the form of child psychologists who can identify and advise on behaviour disorders in children in the school environment.

There is no point adopting harsh disciplinary measures against those children who suffer from a behaviour disorder. It is equally inopportune to expect teachers to act as child psychologists and much less to tolerate violent behaviour from children.

Violent behaviour and threats from parents can, and should, be eliminated by proper security facilities in schools. Parents are adults and they should be held accountable for their violent behaviour by proper supervision, violence-prevention processes and strict law enforcement at all times in the school environment.

Violence perpetrated against teachers by colleagues and school managers is equally unacceptable and preventable. Many educators do not always identify or fully understand the different learning disabilities and behavioural disorders of children. Nor are they equipped to easily understand that an adult, whether a parent, colleague, or school administrator, could also be suffering from a disorder that takes the form of bullying or anti-social behaviour.

Suspension, expulsion and involvement in the criminal justice system are not the best discipline tools. Teachers need to be better trained on an ongoing basis to deal with violent behaviour and to seek assistance from support units that must be available in all schools all the time. Empowerment and support for teachers are indispensable if our educational system is to avoid a major crisis of classroom violence.

Teachers deserve to be treated with respect. They rightly expect to work in a safe and supportive environment, just as much as students must be taught in a safe and supportive environment.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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