SMOL: Teachers and their unions partly to blame for epidemic of violence against teachers | #schoolsaftey

Today, four years after I decided to retire from a 27-year career in teaching, I take pride in having the self-respect to say, “I don’t deserve this abuse.”

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With my profession rapidly degenerating into a toxic moral sludge pit of unchecked violence and harassment against teachers, this old army veteran no longer felt safe and protected. It was time to move to the “real world of business,” where I can actually expect protection against violence and harassment.

And, if recent media and feedback from former colleagues is any indication, the epidemic of violence against teachers is getting much worse.

The finger of blame is pointing in every possible direction. But, in the end, we need to acknowledge that only teachers and their union (not principals, politicians, or parents) can decide when teachers have truly had enough of workplace violence and harassment. And, frankly, that has not happened yet.

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Today’s generation of weak, discipline-averse principals, frightened of parents and intent on being best friends with violence-prone “behavioural” students, deserve much of the blame. However, the fundamental institutional hypocrisy of the teaching profession is that all too often, today’s teachers will tolerate a level of harassment and violence from students that they would never remotely allow from anyone doing the same thing outside of school property.

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Teaching is probably the only profession in Canada where young male and female students (some as old as 18 or 19) can commit acts of violence and harassment against their teachers and not suffer any real consequences. Their easily obtainable status as “behavioural” students, combined with our school’s “progressive discipline” policy, will almost guarantee that they are immune from accountability when they attack or harass teachers or educational assistants at school.

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And it was almost too much hypocrisy for me to bear when I saw intelligent, highly-educated female colleagues teach and talk ad nauseam on the need to end violence against women while at the same time tolerating violent advances and sexual harassment by 16 to 19-year-old male students with excuses like “he was probably having a bad day” or “I may have brought on the violence myself.” And my all-time favourite “I need to be more understanding of his emotional needs.”

Yes, it sure sounds like something my great-great-great-great grandmother’s generation might have said when males thought it their right to punch and slap women about in the 1820s. But in 2023, this de facto rationalization of violence against our mostly female profession is alive and thriving.

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So, what about the union? Anyone familiar with my past writing on labour issues, and my work as a union representative, knows how much I believe in unions. But sometimes, when you genuinely believe in an institution’s objectives, you are ethically bound to call out its shortcomings.


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And when it comes to addressing the violence against teachers epidemic, the union is derelict. Their flamboyantly combative rhetoric aside, union support in student-on-teacher assault and harassment invariably gets diluted in a tangle of abstract legal fog often tepidly articulated with way too many “should” and “could” and “mays.”

As I can personally attest to, this is especially true if the student has been identified and granted “behavioural” student status. Lacking is a steadfast commitment by the teacher union to the regulatory imperatives, the absolute “shalls” and “musts” and “wills,” which, outside of teaching, are the norm when setting directives against violence and harassment of employees.

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Overall, the typical teacher union response is best summarized as mollifying, pain-reduction care. The union will passively try to help ease the teacher’s physical or mental pain. But, they won’t ultimately confront the cause.

So, on the test of standing up to violence against teachers by students, I would grade principals and most teachers with an “F” and “D,” respectively. The unions, meanwhile, deserve a “C-” with maybe a “B-” for effort.

And this from a teacher who had a reputation as a fair and easy marker.

— Robert Smol has written extensively on education, defence and veteran issues. He now works as a security professional, freelance writer, and paralegal while completing a Ph.D in Military History. He can be reached at [email protected].

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