Thursday, April 25, 2013

School A Safe Zone?

While I appreciate the heightened level of awareness of violence in our schools as a result of the tragedy at Newton, I must take this dialogue a little further. A recent article in Education Week, has proved to be a catalyst for me to write about this issue from the perspective of one who has been asking this question for a long time; Why do educators continue to accept the "hostile work environment" that many go into every day? There is not another sector of our society that would tolerate employees being attacked, assaulted, permanently injured, or traumatized both emotionally and mentally. There is not! The weapons being used? Fists, teeth, projectiles, yes, sadly firearms, water on the floor, ladders, mandates, expectations, harassment, fear, and far more! Statistics do not lie according to the NEA. While Education Weekly looks at laws before congress to protect students from gun wielding, emotionally ill people intruding upon "safe zones," many educators are crying out and asking, what about protecting the educator in "war zones?" Yes, our community schools should be places where teachers and children alike can safely walk the halls and learn unencumbered by violent outbursts in the classroom. A large number of the educators injured on the job are para-professionals left to deal with the emotionally, physically, mentally challenged children. What is saddest of all is many of these professionals only make minimum wage, with minimal benefits. So, depending upon what state they work in determines their capacity to live on in any quality of life there-after. I would like to share a few stories, all true, about the lack of safety in schools. Case #1: Teaching Assistant, job, overseeing the computer lab in an elementary school. This teacher was hired with an understanding that she would be overseeing proper use of the computer lab. She was well qualified and capable. She was paid minimum wage. The job started out okay, until the school district decided that computer classes would become, inclusion classes. This meant that all children in the school would have the opportunity to be in the computer lab with MS.X. This was also a violation of State law in that, the classroom teacher was also assigned one of 2 half hour preps that she received a week. So, this left Ms. X., alone with children with children who suffered from emotional disabilities. The classroom became more and more violent and the intensity of the outbursts, violent hysteria, and overall hostility increased. Ms. X, began having post-traumatic stress episodes which was causing impairment. She attempted to seek intervention, knowing that her rights, and the rights of the other students were being violated. She was threatened to be fired by her less than accommodating principal. Her only solution, to quite. She did. Case #2: A novice teacher was assigned to a school in an Urban area, a very hard-hit area. Her job was to provide science lab instruction to all children K-8. This teacher being a licensed educator, was not required to have anyone in the classroom, as she was a full-time, licensed practitioner. Miss Y, believed in a hand's on, but routine based process for delivering her curriculum. One young man, a fifth grader, was frequently rude, disruptive and well, "out of control" at times. She requested a conference with the child's mother, and her principal advised against it. So Miss Y, asked for the principal to intervene, however, this only triggered greater insult by this student. Miss Y, besides herself sent a letter home to the mother. The next day, the mother stormed into Miss Y's classroom and began to scream expletives at the young man in front of the entire classroom. Miss Y, tried to get her to leave, but, the mother turned her expletives on the young teacher. Next the mother picked her son up around the waist and using him as a battering ram, began to bang his head into a filing cabinet. Miss Y, ran into the hall screaming for help. A janitor came into the room and ushered the erratic, out of control woman out of the classroom. Miss Y, requested someone to come and relieve her as she had never seen such violence against a child before, or adult. Miss Y, disillusionment increased when she went to file charges and alert the Department of Children and Family services about this horrific incident. She was advised by her principal not to do it. The principal refused to sign the form and informed Miss Y, that she would be written up for insubordination if in fact she carried it out. Miss Y, ended up hospitalized with numerous medical issues stemming from intense PTS, as a result. She was terminated only a couple of weeks later for being unable to fulfill her job. The rationale behind the principal's actions? She identified the parent's actions as one of cultural, and Miss Y, was not capable of understanding it. Case #3: High School, where there are frequent fights breaking out in the hallway with little to no forewarning. Fight broke out, requiring 10 educators to break up 2 boys. One of the teachers while breaking it up was assaulted from behind by a student who was not even in the fight. This person saw it as an opportunity to injure an educator. The teacher had to leave and seek treatment. Case #4: High School educator permanently relegated to live out her life in a wheel chair. Why, well, because a student thought it would be funny to see what happened if oil was poured on the tile covered cement stairs. The teacher fell down a flight of stairs, permanently injuring her back. Imagine working in a place where teachers are on high alert all the time, so as to 1)avoid being injured, 2)protect others from being injured, 3) fear of dismissal or degrading of position if you become a "squeaky wheel?" In closing I want to leave you with a few facts about employment in the United States. There are on average 13 people dying every day as a result of injuries sustained on the job. There are another 50,000 individuals dying annually as a result of work related illnesses. The Statistics do not lie according to the NEA. the question becomes, why are educators not willing to stand up and demand answers? Why are there not more lawsuits filed by educators and by the unions that protect educators? As I sit here writing this post, I am recovering from an injury sustained at work, as an educator. While I was not assaulted by any students, not one single student came to my aid when I fell and was unable to get up. I pulled myself by holding on to a lock that I barely reached overhead. I alerted my front office that I had been injured, no one came to my aid. I went on to class and gathered up my students and did the best I could to end the day. Fortunately it was my last period class. That was 6 months ago, and I am still unable to walk. I will return to education in some capacity, however, I have a few points that I need to be heard before that time. Why did I fall? How did it happen? Well, I am one of the few teachers that is obligated to teach 3 different sets of curriculum, and in 3 different classrooms in opposite ends of the building and on 2 separate floors. I have 4 minutes to get from one end of the building to another. I have to carry my materials with me up and down stairs and across the building. This particular day, I had an issue with a student at the end of my 7th period. I had not gone to the bathroom for hours. My mind was on making it to the bathroom in an entirely different hallway, dealing with a student who had been a problem, loading up all my materials and making it to another classroom in less than 4 minutes. With 2 minutes to spare after dealing it the student, I moved quickly up a small flight of stairs, (carpeted)and stepped out onto a tiled covered cement floor, whilst navigating a sharp left turn to enter onto the hallway, and I lost my footing. Arms were filled with books, floor was obviously more slick than the carpeted floor before, and the rest is history. Severe damage to the left knee, hip and lower back. In closing, while many educators do not face what I had to, nor do they face with the 4 representations, the truth is, these are minor compared to what some educators go through on a daily basis. You see, educators need to stop being martyrs and start being proactive to make schools "safe zones" for all. There is no other professional in the world that would tolerate this type of environment, why should educators be expected to, and why isn't it easier to protect that which is mandated by every state and the United States, education.

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