by David W. Marshall
(TriceEdneyWire.com)—Teacher’s Appreciation Week is recognized each year during the first full week in May. Teachers have always held the distinct honor of molding a child’s mind and character in preparation for becoming our nation’s future workforce and leaders. Behind every great inventor, businessperson, and historical inspiration lies a devoted teacher. For a student to have a teacher who believes in them when they don’t believe in themselves is why the teaching profession is one of respect. Any successful person can name that one teacher who significantly impacted their life through examples of caring, encouragement, compassion, and mentoring. Sometimes, the impact is not always fully realized until years later when the person is deep into adulthood.
While I can name several teachers from my high school years who stood out, my third-grade teacher exemplified the respect a child should have for their teacher. As a third grader in Norfolk, Virginia, my classmates and I were deeply affected by the assassination of Martin Luther King. The day after Dr. King was killed, we went to school. I will never forget how our teacher, Mrs. Johnson, was so overwhelmed with grief and emotion that she sat at her desk in front of the class and cried the entire day. Instead of talking, laughing, or running around the class, her pain affected all of us even though we didn’t fully understand it. Out of total respect for our teacher, every student sat silently, watching as Mrs. Johnson dealt with her grief—unable to speak, let alone teach the class. As she grieved the whole day, her students grieved with her. Sadly, most teachers today do not receive that degree of respect and personal connection in the classroom.
In contrast, today’s teachers are too often the targets of violent outbursts, false accusations, and verbal abuse by their students. The incidents of students attacking teachers will get worse with long-term consequences. As students become more aggressive and uncaring, violent assaults and threats harm the teacher, who is the target, the student offender, and the students who witness the attack or abuse.
In Flagler County, Florida, 17-year-old Brendan Depa is now facing felony assault charges as an adult after a surveillance video shows the high school student attacking a teacher’s aide. The Daytona News-Journal reported, “The student stated he was upset because the victim took his Nintendo Switch away from him during class,” according to a charging affidavit. During the Feb. 21 attack, the video shows the teen rushing toward Joan Naydich and pushing her to the ground. Naydich goes limp and loses consciousness. Depa is then seen kicking Naydich while she is on the ground and punching her more than a dozen times. It took four school staff members to pull the student away from Naydich, who was hospitalized for her injuries.
The threat of violence is now overshadowing the rewards of teaching. School districts are having a hard time retaining and attracting quality educators as staff members are becoming more fearful for their safety. Teachers are stressed out and becoming more afraid of having to say no to a student or correct them.
Some educators note that managing student behavior is becoming more difficult because students often do not face sufficient consequences after physically assaulting or threatening a staff member. Taking a student’s cell phone when they are not supposed to have it can easily get out of control and result in a teacher being attacked or suffering other means of retaliation and disrespect. The unknown of what will happen when redirecting student behavior adds to the stress a teacher carries daily in the classroom. More teachers are refusing to put themselves in unpredictable situations by allowing students to do what they want if they are not too noisy or disruptive. The risk of going to the hospital is not worth it. A deep respect for teachers existed in the classroom once; now, it has been replaced with a sense of entitlement. Too many students believe it is within their rights to do whatever they want to do whenever they want. They don’t want anyone telling them any different. Students have been emboldened to torment their teachers and classmates when consequences for disruptive behavior are taken away, and the student is fully aware that nothing will happen to them. Teachers risk losing credibility as authority figures when students get away with too much and the conducive learning environment of the classroom is destroyed.
Mental health is not a topic people typically like to discuss openly, particularly in the workplace, which includes our schools. An unhealthy work environment is perpetuated in situations where there are ineffective school policies regarding discipline and not removing disruptive and dangerous students from the classroom. The physical and mental well-being of teachers deserve better protection.
(David W. Marshall is the founder of the faith-based organization, TRB: The Reconciled Body, and author of the book God Bless Our Divided America. He can be reached at www.davidwmarshallauthor.com.)