Teachers protest at school violence | 5:00AM Tuesday September 25, 2007
By Derek Cheng, The Herald
It is a daily struggle for teacher Judy Firkins to manage her 5- and 6-year-old children at Jean Batten School in Mangere.
She has been punched, been struck by objects thrown at her and had to restrain children attacking other pupils in her decile 1 classroom.
"How much more stress do we have to cope with and how resilient does a teacher have to be before we get practical help with these students?" she said in a passionate address to the New Zealand Educational Institute annual meeting in Wellington yesterday.
"As a senior, experienced teacher, these children are demoralising and destroying my enthusiasm to provide an exciting and vibrant programme."
Mrs Firkins, who has been teaching for 35 years, told the Herald she had taken several blows from one boy while trying to protect other pupils.
"He just fisticuffed me and I ended up with bruises on my chest," she said.
"I have one child in the class ... I cannot physically handle him. I think he's learned that the way to cope with anger is violence, and I get worried about the safety of my children and myself in this vulnerable situation.
"And you're just wasting so much valuable teaching time."
Mrs Firkins was one of several teachers at the meeting to express deep concerns over the impact of increasingly aggressive children.
They spoke about how disruption - including physical and verbal attacks from children as young as 2 - was eroding classroom safety and the quality of education.
A New Zealand Educational Institute report based on a survey at the end of last year found that one in seven primary school teachers had been hit by students last year, and 58 per cent reported "aggressive verbalconfrontations" with students.
Dealing with it came at a high personal cost to many teachers, who have to cope with emotional stress, physical injuries and sapping conditions.
"This has become a norm: you can expect to walk into your room every day and know someone is going to make your life hell," said Tauranga teacher Graham Woodhead, who teaches 10- and 11-year-olds.
Early childhood education teacher Diane Lawrence said: "It doesn't only happen in [primary] schools, it starts well before then - the throwing of chairs, the biting, the hitting, the verbal stuff [from 3- or 4-year-olds] and younger. There has been a huge increase in the time since I've been teaching ."
Union members at the meeting backed the institute's report, which endorsed a wider community and Government response to a problem that had its roots outside the classroom.
"We have to change the way people behave, we have to change the way people think, stop these kids from thinking it's okay to behave like that," said the institute's national vice-president, Frances Nelson.
She said the institute would now seek feedback from community groups and the Government on how to address the problem.