It’s becoming increasingly common to hear teachers working at Sheffield schools recount tales of breaking up fights and putting themselves in the line of danger, says the Secret Teacher.
Even before the recent fracas at Fir Vale gained national media attention, I was already becoming slightly alarmed at the number of my friends in both primary and secondary settings that had encountered violent situations.
The first time I was personally put in such a situation was a few years ago on a school trip, ironically a day out that was in place to reward good behaviour.
Without any reason at all, a student came up to me and grabbed hold of my arm, squeezing the flesh hard and twisting it round forcefully. I wasn’t incapacitated by the event and I wasn’t left disturbed in the aftermath, but it did shock me and leave me bruised. At the time it hurt. A lot.
Another time, I had a sports bag thrown at my head. It caught me unawares and left me startled because it was heavy and, again, it really hurt.
I went into teaching to motivate young people and help them get the best exam results they are capable of. When training, I never even thought of being put in a violent situation and there was certainly no training for such circumstances.
The few annoying but relatively harmless assaults I have had to deal with pale into insignificance when compared to what some teachers have to put up with, often on a regular basis.
A couple of weeks ago there was a fight between two groups of students at a South Yorkshire secondary school that needed breaking up by members of staff, some of which were pushed around and threatened by burly lads much bigger than they were.
The repercussions of that fight are still continuing; earlier this week a stand-off between two of the students involved almost led to more violence and was stopped by a teacher putting themselves in harm’s way again.
There are many teachers in this city who work with students who have issues with physical violence, and these teachers are assaulted on a regular basis.
I know several people in these circumstances who are well trained to handle such matters, but the sad truth is that they are punched, kicked, spat at and even bitten on a regular basis.
As well as being physically bruising, dealing with such relentless behaviour comes with many other challenges too. It leaves the teacher feeling emotionally drained, mentally scarred and at times fearful of going into their work environment. There is also a heightened anxiety about what might happen if their restraining of these children triggers complaints.
The trauma of these altercations with students can be immensely disturbing and even the briefest incident can have long-term impacts.
Let’s not forget that some of the children at adults – both male and female – are very tall, muscular and can pack a more damaging punch than many an adult.
Around a year ago, a colleague was trying to get a tall, aggressive male student to calm down when he was pushed against a wall and spat at in the face.
Almost immediately, they were changed forever. It was as if years of being a good teacher were drained away in that very instance; it led to some time off with stress and a couple of years later they had left the profession. Coping with violence is not in the job description of a teacher, it’s not something they should have to cope with. It’s bewildering, then, to read a statement from a governor at Fir Vale in The Star this week that downplayed the so-called riot at Fir Vale with so much flowery language he would have us believe it was a play fight. The teachers who were in that dining room at the time it broke out were in a state of panic; the fact that the police had to be called – into a school – tells the real story. Extreme violence in schools is, thankfully, rare. But there’s a worrying culture that means the casual bullying and assaulting of teachers is becoming more commonplace. It has to be stamped out.