Jungle in the classroom
ON TUESDAY, October 6, 2015, my life changed drastically. At approximately 1:05 p.m., I was in a grade nine class teaching. During the lesson, I was hit on my left ear by an object which, based on where I was standing, was fired from a student from the class.
When I asked who had fired the object, which later turned out to be a toy gun, no one claimed responsibility. However, I saw a male student of the class with a toy gun in his hands when I turned around. He was later identified by other students of the class as the one responsible for firing the toy gun. I had to seek medical attention the following day because of the severe pain and discomfort I was experiencing. An examination by the doctor revealed an abrasion to my left ear.
I am still experiencing pain and discomfort in my left ear two months after the incident. I feel a sense of violation. I am extremely upset. This was an intentional act of violence. However, I am comforted by the fact that a few of the students of the class have expressed their disgust with their classmate’s violent behaviour. Yet, each time I go to a classroom and turn my back to write on the chalkboard, I become anxious, not knowing if I will become target practice for some student.
Schools are to be safe zones for both students and teachers. I did not expect to be attacked by my own student. The culture of silence, which is pervasive in the wider Jamaican society, made matters worse. A number of students in the class knew who the culprit was, but, maybe out of fear, were unwilling, at the time of the incident, to disclose his name.
Data from the Ministry of Education reinforce the gravity of the situation our schools face regarding security and safety. For the period 2011 to 2013, a total of 1,288 violent incidents were recorded in the nation’s schools. These included robberies, fights, and three deaths.
The classroom has become a battleground where a toxic and crude version of masculinity robs our male students of their full potential. This toxic notion of masculinity is played out daily in the interaction our men have with women, as well as in male-to-male interaction. Alarmingly, not much is being done to curb this behaviour.
The unsafe nature of many of our classrooms and schools often leads to teachers resorting to corporal punishment in an attempt to curb maladaptive behaviour. Our schools must return to safe zones for all stakeholders.
I strongly believe that once a teacher is attacked at school, this should immediately trigger an automatic suspension of the student involved. The Ministry of Education needs to develop a protection-strategy policy in order to safeguard all the stakeholders from acts of violence on school campuses. This document should outline what actions must be implemented against students who physically attack and or injure teachers. As it stands now, it appears that principals must rely on their discretion to deal with such instances of abuse of teachers. This is unacceptable and untenable in an age of transparency and accountability.
The parent/guardian of any student who injures a teacher should serve a mandatory number of sessions in parenting workshops since research now tells us that there is a correlation between students who display maladaptive behavior and poor parenting skills. Parents need to supervise and monitor their children more closely as this is their primary responsibility.
Teachers who are injured while on the job should have their medical bills covered by the State for as long as it takes for them to return to their pre-injury state.
The State and school must be held responsible for the safety of all teachers and students while they are at school. There needs to be some form of financial compensation (insurance) for teachers who are injured on the job. This is certainly an area that the Jamaica Teachers’ Association could explore.
I am still awaiting some form of justice. School safety is the most critical pillar of the teaching and learning experience. If our teachers do not feel safe, they cannot be as effective as they ought to be in the classroom.
I have forgiven the student who attacked me. I hope he gets the help that he needs to turn his life around.