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.
According to SADTU, 50 teachers are attacked or threatened by learners in South Africa’s schools a month.
But you’re not a roll of the dice.
There is a lot you can do to protect yourself from school violence. What follows is a set of guidelines every teacher should know.
- Never create friction.
One major advice that we always give here at EDUPSTAIRS is to never scold, lecture or otherwise create friction with your learners. Not only does this make classroom management more effective, but it goes a long way toward ensuring your safety.
Nothing good happens when you take misbehavior personally or try to intimidate your learners into good behavior. We have dozens of articles describing its harmful effects.
At its worst, however, creating friction can expose you to revenge violence and reputation harm.
- Never turn your back.
Another topic we cover often is the importance of positioning yourself physically to keep watch over your learners. Vigilant supervision allows you to be consistent while securing your personal safety.
And yes, it can be done.
We don’t recommend kneeling down to help individual learners (for a number of reasons) or to ever turn your back on your class (also, for a number of reasons).
If you do need to walk through the middle of your classroom, keep your head up. If working with small groups, keep your back to the wall. Above all, always be aware of your surroundings.
- Maintain distance.
If you notice a learner getting angry, having a temper-tantrum, or exhibiting aggression, never approach within hand-and-foot striking distance.
Stay back 2 meters or more, calmly guide the rest of your class to do the same, and talk to the learner from there. You may also want to place yourself in a location with furniture between you and them.
- Have a strategy.
You must always be thinking one step ahead. What would I do if this learner were to take a run at me? Where would I go? Who would I call? How can I avoid being cornered?
This means making sure that you’re able to get to the front door—that you have a clear pathway—and knowing where you would run for help. It means having access to your phone and the ability to quick dial.
You should also have a chair close by in case you need to pick it up to hold in front of you.
- Move your learners back.
If there is an outburst, display of anger, aggressive pose etc., slowly begin moving learners back and behind you. Move back yourself but stand tall and wait in order to give the learner a chance to calm down on their own.
It’s okay to reassure the learner that you’re there for them and will help take care of whatever is bothering them. Use a soothing voice and lower the tension in the room.
Do not attempt to enforce a consequence.
As long as they like and respect you, this is usually all it takes. If they don’t, then all bets are off—which underscores the importance of the first guideline.
- Call for help.
Remember, these are guidelines. They’re not steps. If at anytime you’re feeling uncomfortable with a learner, or your teaching experience tells you something isn’t right, call for help immediately.
Better to be embarrassed by your overreaction than to live with regret. You can also point to a trusted learner and say, “Go get Mr. Mokoena next door.”
- Keep your distance.
This point can’t be emphasized enough. Always, always, always maintain 2 meters or more distance. If the learner progresses toward you then move back the same amount of steps and at the same speed. Be ready to run for the door.
If they run at you, then you run. Just be sure you’ve already thought through the safest place to go. Also, be sure and communicate with the rest of your learners along the way.
“Call the Principal!”
- Close the distance.
Let’s say the unthinkable happens and you can’t escape. It happens fast and the learner is on top of you, grabbing, punching, and kicking.
Striking distance—between one and half a meter—is the absolute worst place you can be. Best, of course, is 2 metres or more. However, if you can’t get away, then believe it or not, closer is safest.
Therefore, in this case, you want to pull them toward you in a giant bear hug.
You want to tackle, grab, hug, pull them to the floor, and hang on for dear life. Reach around the learner with both arms and both legs and control calmly but tightly. Keep your head close to their body.
This protects both them and you.
In this position, even if they’re on top of you, punches and kicks will do far less damage. Eventually, the learner will tire themself out, giving you the opportunity to escape or the precious time needed until help arrives.
- Direct your learners.
As you’re hanging on and waiting, calmly direct your learners to help with the learner or go get more help. This highlights the importance of being an authority in your classroom.
This way, when you say something, when you say, “Move all the chairs back,” they’ll do it.
If your learners are used to looking at you and to you as the leader of the classroom, and they trust you, then they’ll be there for you. They’ll be the help that you need.
If you can’t maintain distance or get away and you’re unable to get a bear hug around the learner, or if you’re being attacked by more than one learner, then fight like hell.
Yes, I know they’re a learner and a minor and your job is to protect them. But this is your life and no one has a right to assault you. You never want to live with regret that you didn’t do everything you could to protect your life and long-term health.
Fight, kick, punch, push, scream, and run the second you have an opening. Do not seek your own revenge. Fight only insofar as to give yourself space to get away. Often, a firm shove is all that it takes.
Please note that this article wasn’t written carelessly. I do have advanced training in self-defense and personal protection. However, please contact a lawyer if you have questions about your right to defend yourself.