3 Tips for Teachers to Remain Safer at Work
Overview: It is unclear how the stress of the pandemic and the upheaval on nearly every aspect of life has truly impacted students, parents, and school staff. As reported by the WVPI in yesterday’s blog, there has already been one deadly act of school violence which saw a 13-year-old student shot dead after interceding to assist a classmate from being bullied at a New Mexico middle school. Safety must be priority number one with more and more “brick and mortar” schools opening up following work from home orders associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many times it is up to teachers to step in to stop bullying and the ultimate bully: The student school shooter. Unfortunately, too many teachers have been physically injured even given their lives trying to protect students, dating back to the notorious Columbine High School mass shooting which influenced so many acts of violence through the years.
On April 20, 1999, teacher and coach Dave Sanders was shot and killed as he warned students and faculty of the catastrophe that was being perpetrated by two seniors on school grounds. Doing the same, teacher Patti Nielson was also injured from flying bullet fragments at Columbine.
Since then, more teachers have been injured and killed arising from acts of school violence influenced by Columbine, including first grade teacher Virginia Soto at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut; geography teacher Scott Beigel at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida; substitute teachers Cynthia Tisdale and Ann Perkins at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas; and the five teachers murdered at Kerch Polytechnic College in the Ukraine.
Here are three tips to help teachers remain safer at they return to work at school:
1. INVESTIGATE CONTINUED WORK FROM HOME OPTIONS: Ask about any teaching from home opportunities that are available with your current employer. Even if it means leaving your beloved current classroom for another at your school or taking an assignment at a different school entirely within your employer's district, continued teaching over the computer means that you will not be physically present if and when violence breaks out at the school. If no such options are available, consider taking another position with another employer entirely that will allow you to teach from the safety of your home during these continuing uncertain times.
2. EVALUATE YOUR EMPLOYER’S SAFETY PROGRAM. Take a comprehensive look at your employer’s written safety procedures and protocols. Determine whether the school recognizes that violence can erupt anywhere at any time -- not just at "other schools." Determine whether the emphasis is placed on being prepared to stop violence from ever erupting in the first place. Review the status of written protocols designed to proactively deal with violence "before-the-fact." The time to address violence by emphasizing run/hide/fight procedures only is not enough. This type of approach in and of itself is unsafe because it is wholly reactive, rather than being proactive. It assumes the active shooter is already on the loss on campus, your workplace. Initiatives emphasizing preventing the shooter from ever entering the school must be in place. Research whether these types of efforts have been established.
3. RESEARCH YOUR EMPLOYER'S STANCE ON BULLYING. As the tragedy at Washington Middle School reminds us, many acts of deadly school violence have its roots in bullying. Investigate how serious a position your employer has taken on bullying. It is not enough to have a written anti-bullying policy. Research how well that policy is implemented and enforced. Are expectations regarding bullying communicated and does administration back up what is written through actions designed to ensure timely, fair and equitable enforcement across the board? Conversely, does administration turn its head regarding bullying and pretend it is not occurring at your school? Are certain “favorites” such as the captain of the football team or children of prominent families given breaks concerning bullying, leading other students to feel as though they don’t matter and others to possibly become angered? Just four months before the Columbine tragedy, the two student/mass murderers created a video called “Hitmen for Hire” starring them as hitmen hired to protect bullied students at Columbine High School.
When violence breaks out in and around classrooms, it is oftentimes left up to the teacher to deal with it as they are on the front line.
Sadly, too many teachers have been injured and sadly even lost their lives performing tasks they did not sign up for.
A teacher's job is to teach, not be a SWAT team member. No one expects law enforcement to lead Algebra or English courses in our classrooms as their jobs and training relates to police work. Why is it becoming more and more acceptable to demand that teachers do anything but what they were trained and hired to do?
If your current employer does not recognize the distinction, now more than ever is the time to find one who does.