I once saw a video on Facebook where a matric learner was attacking his teacher with bricks. He was hit in his back while trying to run. Other fellow teachers were trying to calm the learner down but they were also scared of him. He was outraged and dangerous.
Most teachers don’t enter the field, thinking they will need to use self-defence tactics in the classroom. Violence and threats against teachers is a serious problem in South Africa with lasting effects. In fact, according to SADTU, 50 teachers are attacked or threatened by learners in South Africa’s schools a month.
The attacks negatively impact not only the teacher who suffers the attack but also the learner perpetrator, the rest of the RCL, the future of the school and the community at large. School Districts and School Principals need to collaborate and create solutions to the epidemic of learner assaults on teachers.
Here are some of the lasting effects learner assaults on teachers have:
The Schools will struggle to retain and attract high quality teachers
When learners assault teachers, it jeopardizes the quality of teaching and learning at the school. Teachers attacked by learners may suffer from PTSD or anxiety and be unable to return to work, or simply choose to leave because they no longer feel safe. This may also depend on the reaction of the School Management Team (SMT) to these occurrences.
If a teacher feels supported by the SMT after an attack, they are more likely to stay in their current position. In many cases, however, the teacher finds the response unacceptable, and the lack of support leads them to leave the school. Other educators who are looking for employment are less likely to apply to work in schools where they have heard of assaults on teachers.
This makes it hard for the school to retain and attract high-quality teachers. The more frequently these assaults happen, and in more locations, the more University students may choose not to pursue the education field at all.
Violence creates an unsafe learning environment
Being around violence, even if they don’t witness or experience it first hand, is stressful for learners. Seeing or hearing about violence against teachers creates an environment where learners don’t feel safe. Their perception of their teachers and other adults may shift as well. Instead of respected authority figures and protectors, learners may not feel safe around teachers or may not respect their authority once they have seen them violently disrespected by other learners.
Learners also see the School Principal’s reaction to these attacks, and if there are little or no consequences, they realize the level of behaviour they can get away with at school. Studies show that chronic stress impedes learning and the ability to store and retrieve memories. If learners don’t feel safe in the classroom, they won’t be able to learn as effectively. The chronic stress can also negatively impact their health and lead to a variety of physical and mental illnesses.
The Learner suffers as well
When a learner attacks a teacher, they will almost always be labelled by other learners, teachers, and SMT as a problem child. They are more likely to receive punishment than any sort of rehabilitation, and the most likely punishment would be suspension or expulsion, hindering their education. Lashing out and attacking a teacher, while obviously inexcusable, is symptomatic of serious problems at home, emotional disturbance, or mental health issues. Attacking a teacher is a cry for help, but the learner is unlikely to receive that help. Instead, the learner, other learners, the teacher, and the entire school suffers.
Violence against teachers is a serious problem in our South African Public Schools that needs to be addressed. School Principals and the Districts need to work together to create a system that works to protect both learners and teachers. The future of the educational field may depend on it.