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Survey puts spotlight on ‘crisis of violence’ against teachers, school staff

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Washington — A third of teachers and nearly 2 out of 5 school administrators have experienced verbal harassment or threats of violence from students during the COVID-19 pandemic, results of a recent American Psychological Association survey show.

Researchers surveyed nearly 15,000 school staff members – teachers, administrators, psychologists and social workers, and others (including aides, resource officers and counselors) – from all 50 states and Puerto Rico from July 2020 to June 2021. They found that 33% of the nearly 9,400 teachers surveyed reported enduring verbal harassment and/or threats of violence from students – acts such as cyberbullying, intimidation or sexual harassment. Thirty-seven percent of the administrators, 27% of the other staffers, and 15% of the school psychologists and social workers also reported harassment and threats.

The percentages were similar when parents were the aggressors: 42% of the administrators and 29% of the teachers reporting verbal threats or threats of violence from that group.

Around half (49%) of the teachers expressed a desire or plan to quit their position or transfer. Factors contributing to stress among school personnel include feeling unsafe, lack of supportive work environments, and limited input into school policies and procedures. “Even when many schools were implementing remote or hybrid instruction, there were substantial rates of student physical violence (e.g., objects thrown at participants, ordinary objects weaponized and physical attacks) against teachers and school personnel,” the researchers wrote.

Data from the National Center for Education Statistics shows that, in January, 44% of public schools reported at least one teaching vacancy, with resignation (51%) cited as the leading cause. APA offers guidance to help mitigate the “public health problem” of violence against educators:

  • Allow school districts to implement mental health programs for educators and school personnel, including elements such as professional development training, supports for self-care, coping with stress and mentoring.
  • Provide teachers and staff with more training on social and emotional learning, as well as trauma-informed teaching.
  • Work with psychologists, counselors and social workers to understand and support teachers’ social and emotional needs in school settings.
  • Support students’ mental health and well-being by increasing the number of well-prepared staff to address student needs, reinforcing connections with and between students, and helping students manage their emotions.
 

In a press release, National Education Association President Becky Pringle said that although the “sources and motivations behind violence in schools vary greatly, the solutions are clear as day” – increasing staff, training and attention to mental health needs.

“This crisis of violence should unite educators, students, families and politicians around the common goal of ensuring that our public schools are the safest, healthiest and most just places in our communities,” Pringle said. “We need to address the mental health needs of students and educators, as well as school staff shortages – both of which undermine the learning and growth of our students and the safety of our educators.”

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