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9 out of 10 teachers say they face violence, bullying in Alberta schools: ATA survey

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The Alberta Teachers’ Association released a new report on bullying and violence against teachers. The survey is believed to be the first of its kind in the province. And as Julia Wong reports, nine of ten teachers report being on the receiving end of bullying and violence – Oct 28, 2020

Ninety-three per cent of Alberta teachers who responded to a survey report being on the receiving end of bullying or aggression during their career, with students being the primary cause.

The finding was released in the Alberta Teachers’ Association’s inaugural survey on aggression in schools, which is believed to be the first study of its kind in the province.

READ MORE: Kicked, punched, scratched — 311 incidents of student violence towards Edmonton teachers in 1 year

“The survey responses revealed teachers’ and school leaders’ concerns that aggression against teachers has been worsening in schools and that the problem has been neither effectively addressed nor recognized,” reads the report compiled by the ATA’s Committee on Understanding Aggression(s) in Alberta Schools and School Communities.

There were responses from 561 teachers across the province, out of 4,000 randomly selected teachers, to an online survey and focus groups. The report acknowledges the sample size is moderate but said it is sufficient to understand concerns around aggression.

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The report defines violence and bullying as remarks that offend or intimidate, threats of violence (with or without a weapon), property damage, attempted or actual physical violence, and stalking.

RELATED: Incidents of student violence against teachers likely higher than reported, experts say

Other findings from the report include:

  • Most bullying occurred face-to-face but 35 per cent of the incidents occurred through email or social media.
  • Weapons were used in 12.4 per cent of cases (88 reports), with knives (four incidents) and guns (six incidents) used in a few instances.
  • Women experience more bullying than men, while special education teachers experience more bullying than other types of teachers.
  • Elementary and middle school teachers report higher levels of violence than high school teachers, who themselves report higher levels of bullying.
  • Ninety-one per cent of those who experienced violence and bullying reported adverse effects, such as stress, physical injuries and loss of job satisfaction.
  • Almost half of the respondents reported having training related to managing bullying and violence but 62 per cent indicated a need for additional education or training.
  • Fifty-eight percent of respondents who reported an incident said it was handled to their satisfaction.
  • Several factors affect whether an incident is reported, including whether the perpetrator has a history of violence or bullying, whether a weapon is used and whether there is an injury.
  • There were also reports of bullying from parents (15 per cent of respondents) and other staff (approximately six per cent of respondents).

“It tells you it’s something that is happening in schools, and whether or not we talk about it or if we just try to keep it quiet, it’s something I feel like we need to talk about. We need to try and end the stigmatism that goes around it as well,” said ATA president Jason Schilling.

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“We want our students to be safe. But we also need to have a discussion about the safety of teachers and other staff who are in the school, such as EAs a well.”

READ MORE: ‘Dirty little secret’ — Alberta teachers call for classroom accountability amid student violence

Click to play video 'Alberta teachers and EAs share stories of violence in classrooms' Alberta teachers and EAs share stories of violence in classrooms
Alberta teachers and EAs share stories of violence in classrooms – Oct 1, 2018

Lisa Everitt, an education researcher with the ATA and contributor to the project, said the results, while not definitive, provide a snapshot of the situation in Alberta classrooms.

“It provides us with direction to help us deal with policy questions around the issue. It helps us to deal with individual teachers who are affected by this and it also helps us understand where we need to direct our research in future projects,” she said.

Everitt said the majority of incidents are on the lower end of seriousness.

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“We don’t see schools are being unsafe. We believe that those more serious incidents of aggression that involve violence… those are much less common,” she said.

The study recommends providing additional training to front-line teachers, evaluating existing support programs and resources for teachers and further study into how incidents are followed up.

RELATED: More safety inspectors, enforcement could improve safety in Alberta classrooms, labour expert says

Schilling said he wants to see clearer and easier ways for staff to report incidents and for those incidents to be followed up. He also wants changes to funding for schools to ensure there are enough staff at schools.

“One of the things that came out of the study that caught my eye was that if our classes are too large, it’s harder for teachers and staff to make relationships with students and to figure out why students might be feeling the way that they are,” Schilling said.

Colin Aitchison, a spokesperson for Education Minister Adriana LaGrange, said Alberta Education just became aware of the report and is going to carefully review the survey.

“We all agree that aggressive behavior or violence in a school is completely unacceptable. If a teacher is criminally attacked, we fully expect schools/school divisions to involve appropriate law enforcement authorities,” Aitchison said in a statement to Global News.

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Global News investigation

The report comes on the heels of a 2018 Global News investigation that found 311 incidents of student violence towards Edmonton teachers in the public and Catholic school districts in one school year.

The investigation revealed there were 91 incidents of students biting or spitting on a teacher, 67 situations where a teacher got hit or punched and 50 cases where students kicked a teacher.

The investigation also found a teacher or EA required first aid in 117 incidents and required medical aid or time off work in 45 cases.

The data analyzed by Global News also showed that the majority of incidents within the EPSB happened in elementary schools; the ECSD redacted the names of all schools in its incident reports.

Teacher responds to report

“Ryan” is a teacher in the province; Global News has agreed to identify him with a pseudonym due to concerns over repercussions for speaking out.

Ryan said he has faced multiple instances of student aggression over the years.

“I had one student who – I was back from appendix surgery, it was my second day back – and he leapt off a filing cabinet at me aiming for my incision marks. I’ve had a student slam a heavy metal door on my arm and then a lot of verbal aggression,” he said.

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“I’ve had students who, they were on their computer when they weren’t supposed to be, (and) I asked him to put it away and he wouldn’t. I got an email from him basically telling me he was going to cut my head off with an axe and bring it back to school and cut me into small pieces because I was an idiot.”

Ryan said the findings of the ATA survey were not surprising and reinforced his experiences. He said there’s been more of a spotlight on the issue of student violence against teachers, and the survey was important for the organization to do.

“It gets that ball rolling of saying, ‘Yeah, we recognize this is a problem,’ and instead of just doing lip service,” he said, adding he hopes to see more resources for those dealing with these issues and more followup when incidents are reported.

Got a tip about a story? Email reporter Julia Wong at julia.wong@globalnews.ca or use the contact form below

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