Education Week - February 14, 2018 - 11
Student Assaults on Teachers Can Have Lasting Impacts
tected after being injured, among
She ended up settling for
$197,500, but the incident left her
shaken and depressed.
"I didn't know if I even wanted to
go back into teaching after all that,"
she said. "I felt like I couldn't trust
the system, I couldn't trust my administrators. I was afraid if something like this happened again, how
I would react-fight or flight."
For the school district's part, Superintendent Thomasina Jones said
the settlement was reached on the
advice of the insurance company,
and the district conducts a thorough
investigation into every incident of
violent student behavior.
What happened to Andrews isn't
an isolated incident. In the 201516 school year, 5.8 percent of the
nation's 3.8 million teachers were
physically attacked by a student.
Almost 10 percent were threatened
with injury, according to federal education data.
Some teachers, like Andrews, may
sue after they are attacked, and
those lawsuits typically become
high-profile news. But for the most
part, teacher victimization has been
an understudied and underpublicized area, experts say.
"It's a tough thing to study," said
Dorothy Espelage, a professor of
psychology at the University of
Florida. "No one wants to talk about
that teaching is a hazardous profession, that teachers are at risk when
they're in the classroom."
New research offers some insights
on the teachers who are being attacked, and what those incidents can
mean long term.
A recent study by Francis Huang,
an assistant professor in the statistics, measurement, and evaluation
in education program at the University of Missouri, analyzed 2011-12
federal education data to see what
factors lead to teacher victimization. The analysis excluded special
education teachers, who are more
frequently at risk.
The study, published last year,
found that female teachers were
more likely to be attacked than
male teachers. Teachers in schools
with higher percentages of nonwhite students and higher levels of
poverty were more likely to report
being threatened or attacked-but
Huang said the data didn't shed
any light on the demographics of the
students who attack teachers.
In addition, new teachers were
more likely than experienced teachers to be threatened or attacked, the
Being attacked by a student can
have serious consequences for teachers, said Byongook Moon, a professor
in the criminal justice department at
the University of Texas at San Antonio. Moon has received two recent
grants to research teacher victimization.
Almost 44 percent of teachers
who had been the victims of physical assault said the attacks had a
negative impact on their job performance, according to a study
Daryl Peveto for Education Week
CONTINUED FROM PAGE 1
Teacher Michelle Andrews says
she was assaulted by a student
in 2015. She ended up pressing
charges, was fired, and then
settled with the school board
for nearly $200,000.
Moon conducted of 1,600 teachers.
Nearly 30 percent said they could no
longer trust the student, and 27 percent said they thought of quitting
their teaching career afterwards.
In recent years, state legislators
across the country have shown interest in reducing teacher victimization.
However, bills proposed in the area
have at times aimed to increase punitive measures toward students-a
tack that rarely receives unified support among the education community.
For example, a bill currently going
through the Wisconsin legislature,
deemed the Teacher Protection Act,
would, among other things, allow
teachers to remove a student from
their classroom for a maximum of
two days. Generally, school administrators decide whether to suspend
students, but the bill would let teachers ask the school board to suspend
those who attacked them, if administrators deny their request. The bill
would also require police to report
violent incidents by students offcampus to their schools.
The bill's author, Rep. Jeremy
Thiesfeldt, is a Republican who
chairs the Wisconsin State Assembly's education committee and was a
teacher for more than two decades.
He said he proposed the bill after
seeing local media reports of teachers being assaulted and hearing that
schools were reducing the number of
suspensions and expulsions.
When students don't have con-
sequences, he said in an interview,
they're "being put in control of the
classroom. ... We're putting teachers in the midst of a social justice
Critics of the legislation have said
that it could contribute to the schoolto-prison pipeline, especially for students with disabilities, students of
color, and students who have already
"Wisconsin suspends black students at higher rates than any other
state in the country," state Rep.
Chris Taylor, a Democrat, wrote in
an essay, adding that this bill would
be "devastating" for those students.
And while critics worry that the
bill will cause teachers to treat students differently if they know their
arrest records, Thiesfeldt said that
provision is necessary to ensure
teacher safety. Even so, he will consider amendments to the bill to make
sure students with special needs
aren't unduly punished.
Other bills that proposed harsher
punishment for students who assaulted teachers have not been successful: In North Carolina, a bill
proposed in 2015 would have made
students 16 and older guilty of a felony if they assaulted a teacher. The
bill was opposed by children's advocacy and disability rights groups.
"Branding a young person as a
felon decreases their chances of continuing education and employment
opportunities and increases their
chances of eventually spending time
in state custody," wrote two advisors of Youth Justice North Carolina
(which is now called the Youth Justice Project), in a 2015 blog.
And in Minnesota, a bill introduced in 2016 would have required
school boards to automatically expel
a student who threatened or inflicted
bodily harm on a teacher for up to a
year. There have been multiple inci-
dents of attacks against Minnesota
teachers in the past few years-including a 2015 incident in St. Paul
in which a high school student
slammed a teacher into a concrete
wall and then began to strangle him.
The teacher ended up with a traumatic brain injury.
Still, the bill received fierce opposition from educators and was stopped
in committee. Instead, the state
teachers' union, Education Minnesota, is putting its energy toward
promoting restorative practices to
handle student discipline. Restorative practice is an increasingly
popular approach in schools that
says students need to work to right
a wrong, rather than be punished
under "zero-tolerance" policies.
"Restorative practice, in its simplest form, [says that] hurt people
hurt people," said Becky McCammon,
the restorative practice program coordinator for the St. Paul Federation
of Teachers and the St. Paul district,
which has committed to piloting this
work in 12 schools.
In one elementary school, she said,
this means that when a student's
emotions begin to run high, he or she
can go to the school's "green room"
to take a break and de-escalate the
budding conflict-there's a place to
do yoga, a punching bag, and a school
leader who's trained in restorative
practice to talk to.
Sending a Signal
Meanwhile, in one of the district's high schools this year, a student who was in the midst of a mental-health crisis physically harmed
some educators. Afterwards, the
educators met with the union president, school leaders, and members
from the community to discuss
what happened and how that kind
of incident could be prevented in
the future, McCammon said.
Researchers say that teacher training and administrative support,
rather than legislation, are key to ending teacher victimization.
"Mainstream teachers rarely get
training on how to de-escalate violence
in the classroom," said Espelage, the
University of Florida professor. "Some
of the training we give to special ed.
teachers, I think we need to give to all
She said there are simple tactics
that a teacher can use to reduce the
possibility of violence, from managing her tone and demeanor to understanding trauma.
Huang's study also found that
teachers who feel supported by their
administrators and think that their
colleagues enforce the rules consistently are less likely to be victims of
threats or attacks.
"If a teacher feels like the administrator has his or her back, this might
send a signal-teachers might feel
more protected, cared for, and enabled by the school administration,"
said the University of Missouri professor. "The students who victimize
teachers might think, 'Oh, I can't get
away with this.'"
On the flip side, if teachers and students see that a principal won't back
up a teacher when a student misbehaves, "that might weaken the teacher
and it might embolden the student,"
These days, Andrews, the N.J.
teacher who was attacked, teaches in
a private alternative school where she
works with students who have behavioral issues.
"I love where I'm teaching because, for once, I'm in a school where
there's definitive rules in place,
there's support from everyone I work
with, support from my administrators," she said. "I feel safer in my
EDUCATION WEEK | February 14, 2018 | www.edweek.org | 11