Incidents of student violence against teachers likely higher than reported, experts say
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No one ever goes to work expecting to get hurt, never mind for that to come at the hands of a child. But that is what some teachers in Edmonton experience when they step into the classroom, and experts say the situation is likely worse than what is reported.
Documents analyzed by Global News show there were 311 reported incidents of student violence against teachers in the Edmonton Public School Board and Edmonton Catholic School District in the 2016 to 2017 school year: 91 involved students biting or spitting on a teacher, 67 saw a teacher get hit or punched and 50 where students kicked a teacher.
Global News obtained the reports written by teachers and educational assistants (EA) from both school boards through a Freedom of Information request.
Eric Anderman, the head of the Department of Education Studies at Ohio State University, recently completed a study in the United States examining violence against teachers at the hands of students.
The nation-wide survey, which was done in collaboration with the American Psychological Association, looked at a variety of factors, including how educators dealt with the violence.
“Eight-one per cent of them reported it to their school administration. That means 19 per cent — under 20 per cent, or one out of five — didn’t report it to the school administration. That’s kind of disturbing,” he said.
“We need to make it safer for teachers to talk about this.”
The study, which was published in the journal Social Psychology of Education, found 24 per cent of respondents did not tell their family and 88 per cent did not speak to a counsellor.
“There can be huge mental health consequences. There can be physical health consequences to them. They could leave the profession,” he said.
Greg Jeffery, president of the Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA), said he also believes many incidents go unreported.
“Teachers care about their students and there’s often the thought by a classroom teacher that, ‘I don’t want my student to be in trouble so I’m just going to manage this on my own,’” he said.
“Some teachers would feel embarrassed that the situation escalated to that level.”
The ATA is looking deeper into the issue of under-reporting. Jeffery said some funds have been set aside for “research and investigation on this particular topic.”
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He said the association will look at — among other things — the number of incidents, the types of aggression taking place and the class size of the teacher and student.
Minister once received black eye from student
Education Minister David Eggen, who was a teacher for 20 years, said he found the results of the Global News investigation “disturbing.”
“I certainly remember getting a black eye at one point.”
Eggen, who declined to elaborate on his experiences with student violence, said it’s important for his department to work with the ATA and school boards to create a safe space for people to stop hiding these incidents and report them instead.
“We need to get past that because, again, the integrity of the safety of the classroom is more important.”
The minister acknowledges the issue is not likely to go away anytime soon.
“I want to make sure that teachers know, every step of the way, they are protected and for the integrity of their job, integrity of their profession but their own personal safety too.”
WATCH: A Global News investigation has found teachers in Edmonton are often on the receiving end of violence from students. Julia Wong dug through the documents and has the story.
Acts of violence
The reports from EPSB and ECSD detail the incident, which school it happened in, who was involved and the outcome of the teacher, such as whether first aid, medical aid or time off was required.
The documents were heavily redacted; both schools cited privacy concerns for the students and teachers involved.
The reports do not always mention what happened prior to the incident or what needs the child may be dealing with, so it is hard to know exactly why and how the incidents came to be.
“Student proceeded to slap the teacher in the face,” an ECSD teacher wrote. “The student was told that is not okay. The student then tried to kick the teacher. The teacher moved out of the way.”
An EA at Westmount School in the city’s northwest reported an incident after asking a student to go back to class to retrieve a binder.
“At this time, the student grabbed my upper left arm and squeezed hard and scratched me, resulting in open wound and blood drawn… the student was asked to accompany me to library to do an activity. While in the hallway, the student began to hit and punch me in neck and left shoulder area,” the EA wrote.
Lori Nagy, ECSD spokesperson, said the school board wants teachers to report these types of incidents.
“We encourage all incidents to be reported and we emphasize that reporting incidents helps us to identify needs and helps us determine where supports are required,” she said.
“We remind staff that reporting incidents helps in preventing further incidents of the similar nature.”
More data needed, experts say
Anderman said he understands student violence against teachers may not be a pleasant topic to discuss but data on the subject is critical.
“Prevention is what we should be doing. We can’t prevent things we don’t know about,” he said.
“If it’s tracked, we can know where it’s happening, why it’s happening, how much it is happening. We can maybe get some policy makers to pay attention to it.”
School boards are not obligated to share or report the incidents to the province; the department itself doesn’t have its own data on this matter.
“I think it’s important for people to realize some of the situations teachers have to deal with on a day-to-day basis,” Jeffery said.
Eggen said he is interested in pursuing data from across the province.
“I appreciate [Global News] doing some investigation like this, and with the ATA doing it as well, I can work with my department to gather more information as well,” he said.
Eggen was pressed on the specifics and whether he would like to see school boards provide copies of incident reports to the education minister.
“I will certainly look into that. Good data helps to provide considerate action. I’m a firm believer in that – to analyze and to make decisions based on good intelligence is part of the way we run things here,” he said.
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