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Fear Factors

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You could argue that one thing worse than being attacked by a student is being told by administrators to keep quiet. But that may be happening in Baltimore, Maryland, where supposedly gang-affiliated middle-schoolers recently burst into two classrooms, cut the lights, and then pummeled the teachers. Although these and other attacks have been reported, the Baltimore Teachers Union claims that many similar incidents have not because administrators are seeking to avoid a school label of “persistently dangerous.” Pat Ferguson, chair of BTU’s school safety committee, says that, while 25 official complaints have been logged this year, an additional 50 calls have been made to the union’s anonymous hotline. “Those teachers,” Ferguson adds, “are afraid to give their name or even their school because they are afraid they are going to lose their job.”

25 Comments

I can't tell you my name or city--I'm afraid that my child will be punished by angry teachers.

Sorry, but I am just a bit skeptical, because I have seen a similar situation here where I live. The teacher's union persistently cries that teachers are attacked but won't report, even though the union will support them, provide them with legal assistance and even walk them through a court case against a student.

At last count, there was only one state in the union that had ANY persistently dangerous schools (and it wasn't Maryland), because the state definitions had been set so broadly. I think it takes several felony convictions (that's convictions not reports or charges) per year per hundred students in most states.

On the other hand--for some real reporting (with real numbers, not the ones that we think they might be if only they were what we think they are)--try checking with a juvenile court or a legal aid society to see how many students are arrested at school. See how many are arrested for manifestations of a disability. Then for some real research, check into whether this approach puts kids on the right path, or exacerbates the problem.

I am in Philadelphia where two students just broke a teacher's neck. Yes attacks happen at many schools and are teachers are encouraged to sweep it under the rug. This isn't even counting the daily threats of violence that teachers receive from students - many of whom they do not even teach, just the random hallwalker. It is time we stop excusing this behavior as just empty threats - "you know they won't do anything" - because now they are. This is not because the student has a disability. This is not because the student has an unstable home. Any kid who has watched Sesame Street knows the difference between right from wrong and that violence is "bad". This is becasue the students have been getting away with commiting and threatening violence for too long. It needs to stop. If a student is not afraid to hit a teacher, a pricipal, or a school officer, do you think they are going to think twice to beat up your child if they want what your child has or think that they were looked at sideways. Do you think they will stop beating them up if your child gives up or will they continue to attack your child until their neck is broken. Do we have to wait for someone to be killed? Stop being "skeptical" and start being worried.

I find this absolutely sickening... I am a Substitute Teacher working on my BA in Mathematics to become a Math teacher. You would not believe some of the crap I have seen in the schools I have been in so far.

God help the student that ever raises his/her hand to me, because I will make an example out of that person by suing that student and his/her parents.

This sickens and continues to scare me. I actually taught a class of students who had emotional problems and one tried to stab me. He was hospitalized briefly and the doctor asked if I would feel comfortable enough to have him return to class. I told him no and our school social worker got upset with me. I told her she could teach him then. The problem with my situation was that he did know what he was doing was wrong. Being emotionally disturbed or not, he knew full well that it was wrong and even told me he knew it was but he knew that the social worker would on his side so he did it.

As far as students without any type of disability, I don't care what your home life is. You know that your purpose in school is to learn. If I ask you and I always ask politely, not to do something disruptive in class then don't do it. Resorting to violence is completely unnecessary, but I have seen it and it is truly a sad scenario that takes place daily in many schools.

When a teacher defends an attack and the principal decides to use it against the teacher, for fear of a lawsuit against the school or the principal.

When the principal tells the teachers that students and teachers are like brothers and sisters and the administrators are the parents.

When the principal tries to coherce a teacher to resign, because it will be better for the teacher even though once you resign you give up all of your rights.

These are all worse than being attacked and told to be quiet about it. In fact, this particular teacher was lucky enough to have enough years and retired.

Susan Rismiller has a very empathetic article about working with students who have emotional disabilities in this issue. It's hard to know whether to thank God for the Susan Rismillers who create islands of understanding for the kids who don't fit well, are shunned and sensationalized, or to pray for more understanding on the part of those who don't understand, shun and sensationalize these kids. In the end, the environment of rejection hurts as much as the disease itself.

Teachers ARE NOT protected or defended by their unions...especially in PHILADELPHIA. Teachers file grievance after geievance and NOTHING is done. It used to take 1 year or LESS to hear a grievance. Now teachers are terminated right & left after they file them so they NEVER get heard. Principals and Vallas go after these teachers like bees on honey. The administrators LIE and create situations to get teachers to fail. They LIE and CREATE situationis that NEVER occured. The administration hangs signs where to go to if you see corruption and the office is in the same building as Vallas's. Teachers are treated differently and all is NOT equal. The Union justs sits on their butt and laughs. Teachers have been cursed at and harrassed by the very people they are paying dues to - to protect them the "union.". Ted Kirsh and his gang of lynch men/women need to be put out to pasture. They need to STOP milking the teachers.

A Parent needs to step into reality. The violence that you read about in the paper is only the tip of the iceberg. Principals actually use it as a tool to remove teachers who dare to ask too many questions about missing funds and why discipline is not maintained. Look at the comments that administrators made after Frank Burd had his neck broken at West Philly High (where two more attacks occured just this week). The principal and school safety chief tried once again to blame the staff saying they were upset because the principal made them work "bell to bell". I guess they were so upset that they arranged to have the students attack them too.

The union is fairly useless. Ted Kirsch idea of tackling the problem is to tell everybody wear a red shirt and do another pointless survey.

Ed Klein was knocked out cold in Nov. His assailant was let off because Ed could not make a postive identification. Kind of hard to do when you're unconscious on the floor. There was a security officer that did not stop the suspect as he ran by him. What makes matters worse is that Ed was warned by Jack Stollsteimer, the school safety advocate for Philadelphia, not too report the incident to the papers. He was told "remember who butters your bread". Ed came forward only after he saw that his case was not an "isolated incident" (Vallas' excuse) when Frank Burd was attacked. It's time for Nevels, Vallas, Stollsteimr and the rest of SRC gang to resign.

To read the Philly papers you'd think that Stollsteimer is some kind of hero when in fact he's little more than Paul Vallas' puppet. The last safety advocate, Harvey Rice, did report what was going on and Vallas hated him for it. There was a piece in the newspapers about how Vallas tried to use the report on school violence that the district had commissioned to discredit Harvey Rice. Instead of getting what they had expected the report actually faulted the district on much of its attempts to stop violence. They sat on the report (done last fall) because they said it wasn't "complete". Evidently their version of the word "complete" and most of America's differs. It is now available online (63 pages) if you go to the online site for the Philadelphia Inquirer. You can also read the district's three pages of excuses.

Maybe it's me, but A Parent's posting sounds something an administrator trying to save his own neck would say than a real parent.

It's not the teachers, but the habitual problem students that the administration refuses to handle that might "punish your kid". Once troublemakers realize that the adminstrators are nothing, but a bunch of self-serving wusses they see it as a green light for chaos.

You folks have UNIONS. I live and teach in the South where NCLB is being used to make write-ups "disappear" so a school will not look bad by having too many reports of a serious nature. This is only my second year in teaching K-12 that I have not had my life threatened by a parent, student or both. What do you get as a student for treatening a teacher's life? Three days of ISS. Wow, that made me feel good. Students feel more freedom and entitlement than ever, and have fewer and fewer social boundaries. I see school violence only likely to escallate, rather than diminish.

The MANDATE to eliminate resource or self-contained classes is just not practical for EVERY student. I'm spending 80% of my time on 20% of the students, who are impeeding the learning process of 100% of the class. While I agree integration into the regular classroom does help some special education students, there are others that are destroying the learning environment and our options as teachers are to just try harder to manage -- the students are NOT held accountable for their actions. It's crazy-making, and really makes me feel overwhelmed. I'd love to have a "union" that might help a little with some of this. The reality is that you better teach to the test, not make too many referrals, and get those test scores up OR ELSE YOU'RE GONE -- while handling the knowledge that students can, do and are willing to make threats on my life.

One of the first things the administration does is buy off the union heads. That usually is done by "hiring" one of their relatives (usually a spouse) for some fluff job at high salary. Better than nothing is what most unions are these days, but barely. You have to drag them kicking and screaming to get them to stand up for you. Exposing the wrong via the media is the best bet, but they will come after you. The trick is to have enough publicity about the incidents and to get the good parents on your side as it's their kids who are going to be hurt in the end.

Put National Association for the Prevention of Teacher Abuse in a search engine. Read the stories that have been posted all over the USA and you will find out it is not JUST YOU (as many administrators would like you to believe).

In Philly they use to make the pink slips scarce. That way you had nothing to write down the incidents. Saves them time by not having to "misplace" pink slips.

Let me respond to a few things.

1) I am not an administrator, but a bona fide parent of two children in an urban school district. I don't fit stereotypes because I have an advanced degree, have actually worked (several decades) with urban youth (in and out of school settings, some of them more "real" than teachers generally encounter), and read things like edweek and teacher magazine

2) I do not claim that teachers are never attacked--merely that I am mistrustful of union claims that there is LOTS MORE going on than is reported and that this is linked to not wanting to be labelled a persistently dangerous building. Note--many of the angry comments are coming from Philadelphia. Pennsylvania is the only state in the US that has identified any schools as persistently dangerous. All others (including my own) have set the threshhold so high that this is not an issue that can be affecting reporting.

3) Solutions to school violence/misbehavior, according to the research, do not come from get-tough, get-them-out-of-here models (see Sugai and PBIS, among others for research). There are effective methods and models, but they require thinking differently than I have been reading here, operate collaboratively and are prevention focused.

4) As a parent I have a concern about my children as recipients not only of outright violence, but also harrassment, bullying and systemic exclusion from the opportunity to learn. I have not heard that concern from any representative teacher groups. Violence against teachers does not escalate into violence against students, but the other way around. Some (by no means all) teachers and administrators are daily purveyors of bullying, harrassment and threats against students. Others simply ignore any such student-to-student behavior, particularly if it occurs in the hallways, bathrooms, playground, bus, or anywhere but their own classroom.

5) While the data does not support union claims of increasing violence against teachers (at least in my district), it does support disproportionality in the suspension/expulsion rates of students with disabilities--in spite of legal protections. As I read recently, the plural of anecdote is not data. I would prefer to work from the data to solve some problems that are quantifiable and quantified.

Okay A Parent,

1) I accept that you are a real parent, but somewhat naive when it comes to what is truly going on in the classrooms throughout America (check out NAPTA, National Association for the Prevention of Teacher Abuse). Does reading some educational magazine give you the right to discount the problems we have encountered? Who are you to say what we've encountered is any less "real" than what you have come across?

2) If you had been abused the way many of us are you would understand our anger. It has nothing to do with the unions (which we mainly see as a necessary evil that does little in the way of standing up to administrative wrongdoing). The union are right about the amount underreporting. How would you know about it? Because you read some damn magazine? I have had to deal with stress so bad I literally started going blind in one eye. It was directly related to my room being used as a dumping bin for troublemakers that the incompetent principal couldn't handle. I was told by the doctor to find a new line of work.
Just because other states have set their thresholds high doesn't discount the dangers we encounter. You can bet if Vallas or one the gravy pigs down on Broad Street were attacked by a student the cops would be there in a heartbeat taking down that kid regardless of his troubled background. The only time you see Paul at a school is when the press is there. Let him teach some time under the same conditions we have to and we'll see long he lasts.
Listening to Vallas talk about handling school violence is like listening to George Bush talk about how to survive on a battlefield. Neither one has been there, but both are more than willing to tell the rest of us how to do it.

3) There is all kinds of research. I know what works from my own upbringing in which my parents set the rules and applied consequences for breaking them. I do believe in rewarding good behavior, but I also see how failing to hold to the rules has pitched Philadelphia into the downward spiral its currently in (an escalating murder rate thanks to the worse excuse for a mayor we've ever had and his do-nothing police chief whose only real talent seems to be the ability for sweeping offices for FBI bugs). We've had two store owners murdered during broad daylight within a block of our school. The last one use to come to school for career day every year. He was shot for $30 by a punk that use to work for him. Is that "real" enough for you?
If you believe in your research so much why not step into the field of teaching? I get tired of people who discount the problems teachers have gone through. Step up to the plate and show us how it's done? I came to Philly with many years of substitute teaching in the inner city so I knew what to expect from the kids, but I never knew the depth to which many administrators have sunken to keep their jobs.
As far as research even if you had a free way of maintaining discipline it would not be implemented unless the politicians and their appointed carpetbaggers could make some money off of it. Every solution MUST involve some sort of payoff to them whether it's the text books used, metal detectors or food services. Much of what needs to be done in the discipline field is sticking to the rules and having consequences. Not whipping off snappy phrases like "Zero Tolerance" like Vallas and then failing to enforce it. Remember that despite Vallas' lies he has had one year of teaching on a K-12 levels (he still can't keep his story straight). Vallas' "teaching" career was exposed when he tried running for gov. out in IL and somebody discovered he had taught as a uncertified teacher at a private school out in Montana! Bet that prepared for the "real" experiences of the urban classroom.

4) If you're really worried about teacher retaliated against your kids then talk to the principal. You evidently have more faith in them than the teachers. They run the show. Have your kids removed from the room if you think they are going to suffer from you speaking out.
As far as why student violence against other students is not tackled it's thanks to the principals' action. I use to break up fights until I was written up for pulling a girl off a boy who she was smacking on the back of the head. After that I stopped trying to physically breaking up fights. I will tell them to walk away from each other and call for assistance (which usually takes a long time if anyone even answers the phone), but I no longer lay a finger on either pupil. The principals are just waiting for the slightest excuse to write teachers up. No good deed goes unpunished in Philly.
BTW, principals are suppose to be monitoring what is going on in their school, but often spend the bulk of the day hiding in their offices. Many have no idea of how to handle discipline and don't.
What "representative teacher groups" do you expect to address a teacher picking on your kid? The principal is the one you need to see if you truly believe that is happening. Could it be you know that many principals just don't want to get involved?

5) Whose data are we talking about when you cite teacher attacks. A kid with a disability has the right to attack his/her teacher?. I'm sorry, but I think your flawed logic is what is causing problems like we have nowadays. Open your own school and let the kids with disabilities beat the crap out of you for a change. We'll see how long you maintain that same belief. Even with disabilities most kids know right from wrong. It's just a shame most of American society has become so cowardly that they can't discipline their own kids and therefore belittle anyone who does have the backbone to do it. A disability does not allow a child to prevent his classmates from getting their education. I think those kids have rights too.
Inclusion is fine if that child can behave. If they can't they need to be removed immediately.

6) Put down your magazines and date and search out the websites, District 299 and Substance News. Look for comments on 299 by George Schmidt. You'll read things about the so-called reform movement that the papers pretend aren't happening. Then go the Philly.com and read the discipline report the district commissioned and then tried to bury until the Inquirer asked for a copy. Vallas ordered his regional superintendants to reduce suspensions by 75%. That's a large part of why underreporting skyrocketed in Philly.
Underreporting is not only done by principals, but the CEO and school-safety advocate. It's a scandal that they would like to bury in Philly, but it's too late.

A Parent,

I am just as concerend about a student's right to get an education as any parent - hey I'm a parent myself. I also have an advanced degree from an ivy league university and research experience in education from that same university.

Not every administrator is "hiding out". Not every administrator is "trying to sweep violence under the rug". Many are trying to cope and make their schools safe. However, the problem is too big now. Part of an administrator's job is to present the school in the best light. The failure is in the system and the rules - not the staff. If a principal wasn't at risk for "being replaced" themself, they would be able to do a lot more. Their hands are tied too. Their best tools are hall sweeps and suspensions. How well could you do with those? The changes that are needed need to take place across the board starting at the schoolboard. There need to be consequences - and not just for school staff but for the student body.


Another point - you're worried about children with disabilities. Well maybe that concern would have been better placed at the elementary level with serious emotional support along with learning support (uh- um, read the research) The students we are referring to commit violence in school, they don't feel they will "get caught" or simply do not care. Do you want them to stay in their classroom? What about the students who are doing the right thing - or at least trying to? don't they deserve the attention we are forced to give the violent classmate? What about their education?

This is not just a problem of the teacher with poor classroom management skills, it is a problem for every staff member, parent, and student. I actually have a productive classroom environment, and maintaining it exhausts me everyday. If a person you worked with threatend you or seriously hurt you would you want to work with them everyday after that? If your child was seriously hurt by a student, would you want them to sit in class with that student everyday?

If a child has a disability that inables them to comprehend that violence is unacceptable they need to be in a support class with a staff trained to handle their specific psychological needs, not in the comprehensive high school. (Remember - most of us are not talking about a 6 or 10 year old. We're talking about 15, 16, 17 years old and physically grown) For the rest - they need consequences to their actions - as I said before any kid who can comprehend Sesame Street knows right from wrong and violence is bad.

I have a daughter at home. I deal with threats frequently from outside kids that I chase from my door- luckily rarely from my own students. These are the same students adminstration & security are chasing down too. It sometimes crosses my mind what if the next threat isn't just grand-standing? Can I take that chance?

I apologize that this blog is written pretty much train of thought. I love being a teacher, I will not quit although somedays I'll wonder if I'm making any difference. I am just so frustrated that people will actually trash a profession that is simply asking for protection from physical harm. Is that really to much to ask?

I think it is time for teachers to take back the classroom. I know I will not put up with that crap from students. No bloody way!

The problem is that you have politically protected administrators who can get away with anything (read the latest Philly news). You need enough teachers unite to make enough noise. When the public begins to see how the politicians and administrators having been lying to them all along you will have a hard time taking back anything. They will deliberately use problem children to write you up and make you out the bad guy. that's why I stopped physically trying to stop fights.

Check out

http://district299.typepad.com/district299/2007/03/teachers_in_cri.html

for the stories the Philly rags will never have to guts to print.

The comments by "A Parent" above are not without merit.

Teaching is very hard work and requires a much higher level of mature judgment, commitment, and ability to delay gratification than most other professions. Some people are just not cut out for it.

I was a secondary classroom teacher for many years before becoming a school psychologist. In 25 years I have personal knowlege of only one seemingly unprovoked assault on a teacher. The other few times I know of were teachers who had been "asking for it" for years and were lucky another staff member didn't finally get fed up and pop them a good one before some kid did. Some people can escalate a tree stump to a ballistic state, and I have seen too many of them working with children (shudder).

Zero intelligence..er..I mean zero tolerance policies have led to so many unwarranted and unnecessary suspensions and expulsions for such life threatening behaviors as class-cutting and being a moody, adolescent smart-alec, that data about student behavior these days is IMHO grossly negatively skewed.

Currently, I work at an alternative school. About 60-70% percent of the students I see have no business being in alternative placement. They come with disciplinary dossiers that make them look like the next Jeffrey Dahmer and then do a complete 180 degree turn around within days. It is a fact that positive behavioral support (as opposed to punitive control-based humiliation and punishment) actually works. It also helps tremendously when children are taught at their actual instuctional levels.

There have always been "problem" children. Years ago, they simply dropped out of school after upper elementary. Besides, if all children already possessed totally mature judgement, a work ethic, and perfect social skills, they could master basic reading skills by grade three and then finish the job all by themselves--thus saving billions in educational spending!

Whether we like it or not schools are not now (nor have they really ever been) only about teaching just the 3 R's. Learning self-discipline is also a cognitive task which requires direct instruction and much appropriate guided practice by adults.

I believe it was Albert Einstein who defined insanity as, "doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results."

Educators are charged with educating ALL children to the greatest extent possible and do not have the luxury of doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results...but they keep on doing it anyway.

"If you have told a child a thousand times to stop doing something and he keeps on doing it, which one of you is the slow learner?"

I forgot to add. All those "class-cutters" and "smart-alecs" who could and should be handled at their home schools flood our program and by dint of sheer numbers keep our staff from having adequate time to work with the truly behaviorally disordered studentw who ARE appropriate for alternative placement.

Solo seems to fault teachers for the same frustrations that Solo is experiencing him/herself. If you know what is wrong with other teachers why did you not stick with it yourself? Not having "adequate time to work" is a common experience that MOST teachers have too. Welcome to the club. Overwhelmed is par for the course these days.

Your remarks about teachers "asking for it" smacks of the same administrative propaganda that we've been hearing for years. How about having to work with 20-30 kids every time you have to make a psychological evaluation? You keep the other 20 or so busy while you do your evaluation. Then you'll have an idea of the frustation teachers are going through all over this country. As long as politicians can use school administration positions as a hiring fair for their cronies your workload will only get worse.

Much of our frustration is due to the administrators never helding to the rules that they set. Too often they coddle potential troublemakers and that only encourages them. I currently work with a child who gets away with stuff all the time. He's been a problem since kindergarden and the principal still babys him because she's afraid of his parents who have spoiled him and blame everyone, but themselves for his behavior. As a result he constantly picks fights and displays anti-social behavior. This means I have to stop teaching every time he wants attention. I have tried various methods to deal with his behavior and none have worked. This is what is wrong with today's schools. Pure cowardice when it comes to standing up troublemakers. I suppose I'm "asking for it" too!

In elementary we don't send anybody to alternative schools no matter how bad off a kid is in class. I've had sexual perverts, bullies, kids who swear at the teachers and class, thieves, liar, etc. and never saw one get sent away to an alternative school despite our CEO bragging about how many he's put in the alt. schools. Hell, even a day's suspension is rare. Instead we get an overnight suspension which means the kid is suppose to come back with their parent. That way the administration can pretend they are actually disciplining problem pupils while maintaining a low suspension rate to keep the high mucky-mucks happy.

I agree with a lot that teachers are saying here concerning Jack Stollsteimer and the Philadelphia School District.

I agree with a lot that teachers are saying here concerning Jack Stollsteimer and the Philadelphia School District.

I agree with a lot that teachers are saying here concerning Jack Stollsteimer and the Philadelphia School District.

I agree with a lot that teachers are saying here concerning Jack Stollsteimer and the Philadelphia School District.

I teach Special Education (Autistic Support)in Philadelphia. I love my students, my principal, my felllow spec. ed. teachers and my job. Yes, there are a few inadequacies, some lack of resources. However, I get enormous job satisfaction out of being able to plan and implement EFFECTIVE interventions for my students.

Can the same be said for many regular education teachers in Philadelphia? Some, yes. Many, no. It's a sad fact that our city (and many others) are dealing with large numbers of students who actually have Emotional/Behavioral Disorders that go undiagnosed and their needs go unmet. The sad fact is that poverty, violence and neglect take an enormous toll on students and teachers are one of the very few who MUST work with these children on a daily basis. Teachers have in some cases, far more contact with these children than their own parents.

Those who criticize teachers should stop and reflect on this: why is it that complaints about teacher quality always seem to revolve around the poorest districts in our nation? I'll give you a clue: teaching in high-poverty areas is MORE DIFFICULT. Can effective teaching occur in poor communities? Yes, but it takes an array of skills and knowledge that go beyond instruction and assessment. Most teachers who work in suburban districts wouldn't last a week in a Philly classroom. They'd run out in tears.

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