FRIDAY, JUNE 1: Teachers deserve the right to work in safe and secure environments, just like other professionals.
When students threaten them with violence or actually attack them because they are being disciplined, teachers must be supported by their administrators, the parents and the community at large, including the government.
This violence against teachers is not new and occurs more than you think. A recent government sponsored survey revealed that a number of students carried weapons to school, including guns.
Unfortunately, violence against teachers has been accepted for many years. The first year that I taught in Bermuda, I watched a student punch a principal in the face at a televised graduation. The student received a slap on the wrist for the offence and continued his behaviour into adulthood, when it landed him in jail.
The administrators of certain schools would like to treat acts of violence as isolated incidents in the lives of certain students who have ‘issues’ that cause them to act out their frustrations.
But we now know that that is a dangerously lax attitude. If things have got to the point at which a student brings a gun to school, putting both fellow students and teachers at risk, we must take that as a signal that we can no longer afford to brush student violence under the carpet.
No student has the right to threaten or attack a teacher without real consequences. One of the options open to schools – in-school suspension – may accommodate parents who are not able to easily supervise their children at home, but it does not provide a serious punishment. It gives the students involved the opportunity to gloat and smirk at their victims in front of other students. This is humiliating and unrealistic.
In the real world, if you threaten your employer, you can expect to be fired and possibly arrested. But our juvenile delinquents often receive no more than suspended sentences for their criminal behaviour.
The students who never cause any problems, who sit quietly during class and focus on achieving success in school, are not getting the attention that they deserve because the students exhibiting aggressive or threatening behaviour are often commanding all of their teachers’ attention.
Sometimes this bad behaviour begins at home. Parents may be too busy, or too overwhelmed to provide a structured environment. And “tough love” may be too difficult. They may be in denial about their child’s negative actions and defend their anti-social behaviour. Parents who allow their children to behave badly are often setting them up for failure later in their lives. Even if they manage to graduate, their behaviour may ultimately get them into serious trouble when they enter the real world. In a sense, parents who fail to discipline their children properly aren’t parents at all…they are accomplices.
Do we need an alternative school to deal with serious behavioural problems? Yes.
Bermuda needs an alternative school that will focus not only on correcting anti-social behaviour, but will also teach academics and prepare students for day-release programmes and jobs.
The former TEC Programme became a victim of government budget cuts. We need to replace it with a facility that has dedicated teachers and therapists who will work closely with parents, provide counselling, mentoring and, in the end, produce work-ready students. Our teachers, students and parents deserve no less.
• Toni Spring has been teaching for 30 years, mostly in inner-city schools. She taught senior school and middle school students in Bermuda and has enjoys teaching adult learners of all ages at the Adult Education School. She is the spokesperson for the Shadow Ministry of Education and is the OBA candidate for Constituency 33, Sandys South.