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When Teachers Are Bullied

In a recent incident in a Kansas City elementary school, the mother of a student reportedly pulled a teacher from her chair by her hair, punched her repeatedly, and slammed her head against a file cabinet. This may sound shocking, but according to a story in the Kansas City Star, the attack was far from an isolated incident. In the past year alone, local news outlets have reported numerous similar incidents: a mother and her daughters attacking a Los Angeles teacher, a mother dragging a Georgia teacher by her hair and attacked her with a broom handle over a visitor's pass, a father in Brooklyn hitting his son's substitute teacher repeatedly, and, most recently, an Arizona father pushing a teacher backward with his chest in front of kindergarten students.

Despite increased awareness and research on preventative measures against bullying in schools, teacher victimization has received relatively little attention. A January report by the American Psychological Association found that 80 percent of teachers participating in a web-based survey reported at least one victimization experience in the current or past year, including obscene remarks or gestures, cyber/internet violence, theft or damage to personal possessions, as well as verbal abuse, intimidation, bias-based hate crimes, assaults, and use of a weapon. Forty-four percent reported physical attacks. While the report focused predominantly on student violence against teachers, it noted that about one third of the attacks reported by the teachers surveyed were committed by parents.

A 2003 report by the National Center for Education Statistics found that 7 percent of the teaching force had been threatened and/or assaulted by students. As the Kansas City Star notes, that study did not cover assaults by parents.

While the APA acknowledges that its survey may not have been strictly representative since victimized teachers might have been more likely to participate, the organization argues that communities need to pay more attention to the problem of teacher abuse and its underlying causes.

The APA's report warns that violence against teachers "has profound implications for schooling, teacher retention, and overall student performance." It associates victimization of teachers with lower commitment to teaching as a profession, lower effectiveness within the classroom, and lower student achievement, among other things.

"Teachers go to work every day and too high a number of them go not feeling safe," Dorothy Espelage, one of authors of the APA's report, told the Kansas City Star.

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