Reflecting back on my first year as an educator, there are many things I wish I could have done differently, like not signing up to teach pre-k for example (too many body fluids). Nevertheless, if I had to choose one main thing it would definitely have to be my silent reaction towards a student purposefully injuring me in the face.
Yes, injuring me in the face.
Student X was a four year old regular education student with a severe case of emotional and developmental difficulties. He was the most joyous boy one minute, and the most disturbed the next. Some of his most popular moments in our classroom involved those times when he would go about terrorizing everyone. Punching, slapping, pulling, spitting; you name it, he did it.
As a first year educator, a teacher-aide to be exact, I found that my biggest challenge when trying to help Student X with his behavior was his unpredictability. He would be quietly working on his coloring one minute and tearing up his paper and breaking the kids crayons the next. It didn’t help that he also had a speech problem. Not being able to communicate ones frustrations must have frustrated him, and in fact it did…all the time.
I would look at Student X and feel so impotent to help him at times. The chemistry and developmental delays in his tiny body were hindering him from functioning to the best of his abilities in an academic setting. He had no friends and very few supporters.
The classroom teacher that I assisted was a veteran teacher, and most times she would react by asking me, the rookie paraprofessional, to restrain the child. She would teach me how to cross his arms in front of him and hold his hands into a fist at the same time all while standing directly behind him. Naively, I would do just as she demanded and in result suffer the consequences of dodging Student X as he threw his head against my body.
One fine day, the head classroom teacher decided to leave me alone to go “run some copies”, just the way most classroom teachers do when they have a paraprofessional. I quickly learned that the students had been working on a coloring activity and that Student X was at his terrorizing games again and having an anger episode while in the process. Since the teacher was out and about, I decided to address the issue in my own terms and use conversation as a way to help Student X deescalate from his manic episode.
I bent my knees and put my hands on each one to meet him at eye level and asked the most tender, “How is it going, Student X?” I could possibly give him. To this, Student X responded with a very well practiced and actually articulated, “Fuck you bitch!” followed by a clenching of his nails into my face. I was perplexed as to what to do so I called the office, who in return, decided to send the school counselor my way to take him out for a walk around the playground.
There it was, my first experience with student-teacher violence and I had not one, but a million questions to ask, so I decided to go to my source of information, the teachers lounge. The “What do I do?” and “What are the consequences?” quickly turned into “Get good educator’s insurance,” as well as “Join the union, fast!”
Educator’s insurance? What the hell was that?
For those of you who are as naïve or as equally ignorant as I once was, educator’s insurance is just that, an insurance that teachers pay so that a lawyer who specializes in educational laws can represent them in court after a student, I don’t know, accuses a teacher for restraining him after he has been terrorizing a classroom.
Thankfully this wasn’t the case, and no one took anyone to court that year but it did make me wonder. I know of the hundreds if not thousands of laws that are out there to advocate for the students, and rightfully so, but, what laws are out there to advocate for me, the educator? I know that hitting a student is against the law, but what does the law say about a student hitting me?
I consider myself one of the lucky ones. A teacher whose students’ physical aggression resulted in merely a couple of scratches to the face and no court hearing, but today I look at cases like the one in Baltimore and become dismayed at the controversial reactions.
Despite the fact that you can clearly see the student throwing a book with the intention of injuring or provoking the teacher, many still argue that the teacher shouldn’t have responded with physical force. Before anyone jumps into any conclusions they should consider the following things being mentioned in this video:
- The teacher is seen outside her classroom calling for an assistance team to come remove the student from the scene.
- The student appears to be a physically healthy young adult with the ability to exert equivalent if not greater physical force than that of her own teacher.
- The student had a history of misbehavior and violence.
- A high-school textbook, possibly weighing 2 to 3 pounds was thrown in the teacher’s direction when the teacher wasn’t using any form of violence.
Now, I know we don’t know much of the context at this point, but after considering all of these main factors, a person should then place themselves in the shoes of the educator. What would you, as an adult, do if a young adult possibly between 16-18 years of age with a history of violent behavior threw a 2-pound book in your direction and was using foul language to intimidate you?
If your answer was, “Anything other than violence!” I am with you on that, however, consider that we are, at core, as much of an instinctive creature as the closest animal to your home. Self-defense is a reaction mechanism embedded within the most deepest strands of our DNA, it is primitive and it is necessary for survival, which is why our court system in the USA allows it. Let me write that again, our court system allows it.
I understand that there are exceptions, like when an educator is trying to physically defend themselves from a student, but then my questions evolve to asking, so then what? What am I, a professional educator supposed to do if a student well into his late teens is threatening and provoking me verbally and physically almost every day? Because trust me folks, a teacher never crumbles in a day. Likewise a student of this caliber doesn’t act out on a single one day occasion.
In a perfect world the answer would be for a teacher to call an administrator, or call security, but let’s face it, a perfect world doesn’t exist. When push comes to shove and teachers across this country are staring into the eyes of a young-adult who is seeking to physically harm or provoke them, time is of crucial matter because there isn’t much and anyone who has ever been upset to the point of punches understands why I write this.
Our teachers need to be advocated for and most importantly, they should be trained on how to deescalate an emotionally disturbed student the way any crisis intervention team does.