May 13, 2011

On School And Classroom Fights

Only once in my career have I had a fight in my classroom. I broke it up, of course and Ive intervened more than once to break up fights elsewhere in schools. It doesnt happen often I havent had to do it in a few years but it does happen. And as Ive aged, Ive had an attitude change which will likely make me less gung-ho about wading into a melee in the future. But if I don't, I will be calling or sending for backup immediately and trying to keep order in the area, not just watching events unfold.

But I cannot defend what I see in these two videos.

I cannot justify standing by as a student is offering no resistance in the face of an assault. I cannot imagine letting the situation get so far out of control that students are squaring off in a boxing match. Clearly there is something wrong in this classroom and a big part of it is the teacher. After all, this isnt supposed to be fight club.

But consider this question how far should a teacher be expected to go in order to deal with a fight? Ive taught two guys currently playing in the NFL both defensive linemen and there are several on my current campus who are Division I football prospects. I dont know that Im ready to step into the middle of a fight involving such students. Ill put my body on the line for students but I will draw the line at my physical safety when I know that I can't do any good. And fights involving girls? I am really concerned about liability issues if I do start trying to grab or separate young women there is room for any number of false accusations in such a situation.

And then there is the issue of injury. Some years back, a colleague stepped into a fight between two girls, only to have a sharpened screwdriver thrust between his ribs. Last year, a female administrator was out for several weeks after she took a fist to the face she was restraining one participant in a fight when the other broke free from another colleague and threw a punch that went wide because the punch shattered her cheekbone and the lower part of the eye socket. Im fortunate to work for a district that takes care of teachers in such instances both received paid leave and the district covered the medical bills but not every district is as generous. And while the state of Texas requires that teachers receive up to two years of paid assault leave if we are assaulted by a student, my reading of state law on the matter leaves me concerned that a district could refuse to grant it if an injury was sustained breaking up a fight rather than as a result of an attack intentionally directed at the teacher.

And consider how many parents back their children no matter what. Several years ago, I was in a position to prevent a punch from being thrown at a colleague by a student. The boys mother was at school within 90 minutes to protest that I had dared to touch her son! I was, it seems, supposed to allow the boy to assault a female assistant principal rather than act to protect her and spare the boy a felony conviction. The threatened lawsuit never materialized but if it had, I might well have found myself facing bankruptcy for doing the right thing, even if I were ultimately found to have acted properly.

What Im trying to say to those whose immediate response is that teachers should automatically step into a fight to stop it is that the calculus is not nearly so simple as you would like to make it. And quite frankly, Id rather see some of my colleagues step back and wait for a principal or a constable to show up and deal with the situation Im thinking pregnant women, senior citizens, etc. than have one of them try to mess with a situation that could have serious consequences for them. Every situation really is different, due to the kids and teachers involved, and there is no one-size-fits-all policy that can be applied in every situation. We are even told that by school administrators that we are not required to physically break up fights and that we should use our best judgment. So while I find it easy to condemn a teacher who seems to be acting as a spectator, Im not so quick to pile on the union rep who takes note of the realities that teachers may face in terms of policy, liability, and personal risk. He does have some good points.

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