What is the worst instance of classroom violence you have witnessed as a teacher?
I'm not a teacher, but I have been through/seen my fair share of classroom violence as a kid.
- Both primary schools I've been to had organised fights between two ‘clans'. It wasn't in a classroom but it was after school, before school and during breaks. It was honestly like some sort of gang warfare. Almost everyone in the class of almost 60 kids participated (this is China btw, big class sizes). It was especially bad in the second of the two, and the worst incident was someone punched this boy so hard in the stomach he was coughing up blood. Another time a girl got flung onto the ground so hard she ended up with a mild concussion. This is from grades 2–5, we were a bunch of 7–10 year olds.
- In the first of the two primaries I've been to, there is this really tough and cruel kid. I don't mean like the bullying/name-calling type you get in the west, he was the real deal. He was in year 9 or 11, I couldn't quite remember because I was still quite young. The worst thing he's ever done was to pin someone's hand onto the table with a pocket knife during class. You read that right, he drove a knife through someone's hand. I was not there to witness that but I have seen him backhand this girl hard across the face in the corridor once. One of my most distinct memory in the school was going up the stairs and he was walking in front of me. He had these steel anklets/chains thing that the police put on violent individuals and I just stared at those the whole way up the stairs. Funnily enough, he was very good looking and all the girls found him super charming when he wasn't angry. He also knew how to tango which is super rare and would offer to teach girls. Weird kid, to be honest.
- The last incident that especially stuck to my mind was done by a teacher. Simple enough: a kid fell asleep during class. This teacher did something completely normal and accepted in China, which is to take the textbook he was holding and bashed him on the head. Something went wrong however and the corner of that textbook hit the skin and made a huge cut on his face. I think the parents might have sued/planned to sue the school after that incident.
Yeah, I've seen a fair share of weirdly violent kids.
This group of senior boys in the second primary that would beat people up behind the building that housed the electric generators or something. The younger brother of one of them who was in my year took a bunch of people there to see the blood on the walls. I'm not sure if that really counts as classroom violence though.
There haven't been that many bad ones. Mostly just scraps.
At the last place I worked, we used to have a big hot water urn in the classroom, with tea and coffee supplies and cereal bars that my colleague brought in for the students. Lots of our students didn't have enough money for breakfast, so we made sure they had something to eat and a warm drink. My colleague paid for them, and really wasn't earning enough to be feeding everyone - our program was horrendously underfunded, and staff didn't earn much - but the difference in the quality of work we got from students who'd had breakfast and tea vs students who hadn't was worth the cost.
And then one day someone got angry about something - I don't even know what - and threw the urn of boiling water at us. So the building made a new rule that we weren't allowed to have hot drinks in class. As teachers we ignored the rule where our personal drinks were concerned - I know that the thought of getting through the days without tea or coffee was scarier than the possibility of getting burned - but there were certainly no more drinks for students. Sigh.
(Edited to add: That was probably the worst, more because of the consequences than any actual injury. One person acts out, and nobody gets tea or coffee any more because of it, and on winter mornings when the sun is barely up when class starts, it really makes a difference to morale and concentration levels. Sure, students can get drinks from the café down the road, but a lot of them can't afford it.
(We broke the rules and gave them coffee on mock interview days. There was no way any of us were getting through those without caffeine, teachers included.))
At the place I worked before that, I got my nose broken once. A student partially overheard me saying something, thought I was saying something other than what I actually said, took offence, and punched me in the face. Probably I should have filed a police report, but at the time it seemed like the wrong thing to do, and honestly I'd probably do the same thing now. Frankly, I'm surprised I don't get punched more often.
I once witnessed a male student kick a female student in the head right outside my classroom. She subsequently wet herself.
I've watched two female students pull out each other's hair. This has happened on multiple occasions.
I was next door when a student bit a teacher. He needed an HIV test.
I was next door when a student threw a bottle of acid at another student. Luckily, it was only acetic acid (vinegar). The hydrochloric was right next to it.
And yet, these acts of violence are rare-I witness perhaps one per year. Most of the violence I see is trivial, petty, and brief. A shove here, a hurtful word there.
Far worse is the violence of poverty, which I have seen visited upon my students day in and day out for nearly two decades. Students who arrive to school in the same clothes, day after day. Some carry the smell of bodies that haven't been washed in weeks. Sometimes we call CPS. Sometimes things change. Often they don't.
There are the students who miss school to testify in court, who lose siblings and parents to violence and incarceration. There are the everyday violences of living in unsafe neighborhoods, or with a family on the brink of homelessness.
A few years back I had a student teacher. She wanted to talk about the chemistry of nutrition. I said, "Sure!"
She began by asking how many students had eaten fast food in the past week. Every hand rose. She paused, and then asked how many students had eaten fast food in the last 24 hours. Every hand rose. Longer pause. Then, she asked how many ate fast food every day. Nearly every hand rose. A few tentatively said, "Well, almost..."
At another meeting, a speaker came in to address students and parents. The speaker said, "Parents, how many of you hit your children when they misbehave?" Nearly every hand rose. A pause, and then, "Parents, how many of you think you should hit your children when they misbehave?" Nearly every hand remained in the air.
This is reality: many of my students, and students all around the country, live in homes where violence and abuse are common, where poor nutrition is the norm, and where day-to-day stability is a rare thing.
Forget school fights-the real violence, both physical and emotional, happens at home. And, sadly, we do almost nothing to prevent it.
"Classroom" violence is rather rare - most kids (high school) these days (at least where I teach) wait until after school, lunch, break between classes... I've seen plenty of conflicts during those times.
But inside the classroom itself, and me witnessing it, only happened once so far in my (almost) 5 years.
Last year, I had two students, a male and female (call them M and F, respectively), who were polar opposites and were quite aggressive to each other whenever they were near each other. I kept them seated as far apart as I could. I had asked other teachers, as well as some of the other students, what the deal was. I assumed they had dated at some point, but that wasn't the case. They just didn't like each other, and no one knew for sure why.
It was the Friday before Spring Break. We had just finished tests, so I had let my students casually chat for the last 10 minutes. I was sitting there, wondering what I was going to do during the break.
That's when it happened - quicker than I really had time to react. M said something that I didn't quite catch; it sounded like a "kitchen joke" about women. F turned to him and slapped him across the face, nearly knocking him out of his seat. Every head in the classroom jerked to the sound of the slap. I was raising out of my seat at my desk, when M reacted.
"F*cking B*tch!" He yelled, as the desk toppled over when he stood up. The nearby classmates had all jumped back out of the way. M actually picked her up and threw her over the desk she was standing in front of.
I was moving now, trying to yell out "enough," but the entire classroom had erupted into noisy chaos at this point.
F rose up, a small smear of blood on the edge of her forehead. But before either of them could do anything, I had M in a full nelson hold (my older brother was twice my size growing up, and an avid wrestler), pulling him away.
Apparently the noise had alerted my neighbor teacher, who came in at that moment. He knew of M and F, and must have understood exactly what happened. He came over to M, and told him to "come with me, now." I released him, and M followed the other teacher.
I went over to F to check if she was seriously injured, but there appeared to be no more blood. I said the exact same thing to her - "Come with me, now."
They were escorted to the principal's office.
In the end, they got a whole week of in-school suspension, and both were required to write two essays; respecting other students, and anger management.
I didn't have any other conflicts from them the rest of the school year, and as they were seniors, I have not seen them since they graduated.
M was lucky he didn't get expulsion or police involvement - when I went to school, if you drew blood, the police showed up.
I'm not a teacher, but I've seen my share of violence as a student.
My school has a very poor population, and where poverty goes, violence appears to follow. Some of these events, though, have more to do with being a psychopath than poor.
- Two years ago, there was a fight. After school, there was a gang fight on school property. Several parents drove kids there to participate, and a couple people were stabbed to death. The worst part is, only two of them went to my school, and it gave my school a worse reputation than it deserved.
- Last year, a girl was beaten and raped in our school basement (there aren't any cameras in the basement) by another student. I remember being a soccer practice and seeing the police and ambulance show up.
- Also last year, there were several huge fights. Our 6′8″ ex-football player assistant principal was often the one to break them up, dragging students away while getting punched in the face. One of these fights took up the entire cafeteria with almost 20 people joining in, fighting on top of tables and everything. One student lifted up his shirt to show a gun and everyone bolted. This prompted gang threats, and there was news that the next week there would be a huge gang shootout. On the day of the supposed shootout, only half the school showed up, and there were upwards of 20 cops patrolling the school that day. Needless to say, it was taken seriously.
- Every month or so, there will be a fight between a couple girls in a hall. Some notable ones: a girl tried to drag another girl down a staircase, a girl's weave was pulled out and she was whipped with it, a girls head went through glass windows.
- A couple months ago, my friend's aunt was killed in a drive by shooting. Her brother fought someone at school and several gang threats were made against him and my friend's family.
There are more, but these are some of the more notorious acts of violence that have occurred while I've been a student.
It was the late 1960s. I was teaching a class in "primates" at San Diego State. We had been discussing some ethologists' ideas that violence was natural in some primate societies. And the question was open "Is violence natural to human societies?
But the next day had been designated a student strike day to protest the war in Vietnam.
My students suggested: No strike. Instead let's spend the class talking about war and if it is necessary. I agreed that it would be much more productive for all of us to consider that question than to just go on "strike" and take the day off. And so we did.
The next day the ss (social science) building was being picketed by students intent on enforcing the strike. They said they were Trotskyites. When I got there, the class was in their seats ready to begin.
I had made a tentative outline of what we would discuss. But when we called the class to order the picketteers in the hallway started chanting: NO MORE WAR! NO MORE WAR! They insisted on opening the door and pulling the students out into the hallway.
Before I knew it, some of the students had lined up along the wall next to the door way. When the chanters forced the door open, they marched out into the hall way, surrounded the chanters and escorted them back into the classroom.
They sat them down in chairs surrounded by a double row of my students. They couldn't get out. They were outnumbered. They had to shut up and listen. So finally they understood why were having a class on strike day. They settled down and participated in the discussion.
Whew! Peaceful resistance can sometimes be borderline peaceful.
I am not a teacher, but a student, so I believe I can provide a better answer than from a teacher's point of view.
You see, before I moved to Australia, I was still studying in my hometown of Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam. Even though it's the capital city, things aren't more civilised than towns and villages. But probably even more.
This is because in Vietnam, parents put HUGE amounts of pressure on their children. So basically, our grading system was a 1 through 10, with 10 being an A+++ (100%) and 1 being like, the worst. So, teachers and parents always expect us to get 10's in every single subject, they didn't care if we were bad at it or had problems with it, you get the best marks or you're out.
My 5th grade teacher was a monster. She focused all our time on doing Maths and Vietnamese (which is the equivalent of English). We spent hours and hours a day doing this. Classes were from 7:30 in the morning through to 5, and all that time was spent doing maths problems.
The Vietnamese government had a policy which did not allow teachers to give students homework, as students have had to go through so much stress in the whole day, and wanted to spend more time with their families.
But of course, our demon of a teacher didn't give a damn about all that and assigned us truckloads of homework every day. We would go home, exhausted, at 5 in the afternoon, and then go to extra classes until 8, eat quickly and go up to our room to study until 11:30 PM every night. If it was close to examinations, then sometimes studying until 2 AM was necessary.
With this horrible education system, and a horrible teacher, we got loads of punishments. For example, if you didn't get 100% on your test, you got hit with a 2cm thick wooden ruler. Sometimes on the arm. Sometimes in the back. Sometimes, you got pulled up by the ear, which hurt so much. After getting abused by the teacher, lots of girls (and sometimes even boys) would go back to their desk, weeping, because the pain was just too much.
We had a few kids in our class who had just given up on their education. And to be honest, I don't blame them. And these were the kids our teacher picked on. These kids got hit every day, either because they got a question wrong, or they just misunderstood the teacher, small things like that. They were used to getting hit, and once, I asked one of them to tell me what it felt like to have to march up to the teacher's desk every single day to get a beating. He said, "We... we've gotten used to it. Our limbs feel numb. It doesn't hurt much anymore."
My 5th grade teacher, if you are reading this, I am now thousands of km's away from you now, so you can't hit me anymore. Back off! You're an adult. And yet you're hitting children, even if they didn't really do anything wrong. Now, over the years, you probably have hundreds of kids who hate you, despise you, and would probably not bat an eye if they saw you falling to your death.
Are you proud of that?
I tackled a student right before he stomped on another student's neck.
But the female fights were the worst. Hair pulling, scratching and the high pitched screams.
Breaking up fights doesn't bother me as much as the ongoing verbal violence. It's really hard to be around people who are so mean to each other.
Fights break up quickly, but the ongoing bullying and meanness is what really takes a toll on me as a teacher.
I used to work in a school in Milwaukee where kids would fight and after the fight you would get a break. I work in a rural area now and kids can goad each other into suicide, self harm and bully mercilessly, the administrators will see the aggressor's actions as "A manifestation of their disability." And as such not subject to disciplinary action. This type of bullying is the worst violence in my opinion because it represents an ongoing effort to seriously hurt somebody permanently, whereas a fight is just that, a fight.
I would way rather deal with kids actually punching each other.
I recently had to deal with a student "Seig Heiling" goose stepping and saying over and over "Hitler did nothing wrong" My administrator said that was his right of free expression and caused by his disability.
I guess what I am trying to say is that I see a wide variety of violence and personal destruction as a Special Education Teacher and it takes many forms. But I would way rather deal with a fist fight than an entitled student who thinks it's ok to bully for months and act like a nazi.