Editorial: Teachers need to feel safe from students in classrooms

By Dylan Thorne

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As rewarding as teaching might be, it is also a vocation fraught with challenges.

These challenges exist both inside and outside the classroom.

Over the past year, teachers have had to contend with the on-going debacle of Novopay. The $26 million payroll system has underpaid, overpaid and changed the tax codes of teachers and others in the industry since it was introduced.

They have also battled with the Minister of Education over National Standards, league tables, class sizes and performance pay.

This week we reported the challenges some teachers face inside the classroom are no less daunting.

Figures released under the Official Information Act show children at 10 Western Bay primary schools have been stood down or suspended for physical assaults on school staff.

Children at Arataki School, Maungatapu School, Merivale School, Otamarakau School, Otumoetai School, Tahatai Coast School, Tauranga Primary School, Te Puna School, Te Puke Primary School and Welcome Bay School were reprimanded for physical assaults on staff in 2012.

Students at five of the region's secondary schools were also suspended or stood down for the same offence.

To protect student privacy, the Ministry of Education would not specify exactly how many students were stood down or suspended at each school, saying only that it was five or less at each.

The Ministry also did not know what injuries were sustained by staff or if weapons had been involved, as it did not keep this information.

Western Bay of Plenty Principals' Association president Robert Hyndman attributed the number of reported physical assaults on staff to the fact some children did not not know how to handle their emotions "... especially younger children really distressed or upset for some reason." Clinical psychologist Tanzi Bennison has seen an increase in children displaying aggression and that it was learned behaviour reflecting what children experienced at home.

It's a sad indictment on society that some children are learning that the best way to tackle a problem is with their fists.

The latest figures come after a Council for Educational Research's 2012 report on the state of our schools found 22 per cent of all secondary teachers have felt unsafe in their own classrooms and 33 per cent in the school grounds and public areas. The lower the school's decile, the more unsafe teachers felt and the worse students' behaviour became.

The report also found 60 per cent of teachers had faced bad behaviour from pupils that seriously disrupted their teaching.

As this paper has noted before, one of the main difficulties schools face in dealing with problem behaviour is the pressure on schools to keep problem students in class - regardless of their circumstances.

Although most schools have good support systems, including psychological support, for teachers there is only so much they can do.

Teachers need to feel safe in the classroom and that should be the main priority of any school. The issues that lead to attacks on teachers arise from issues in the home rather than in the classroom and there are agencies that specialise in providing support to families under stress. This is not the job of teachers or schools.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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