‘I did not feel safe’: Teachers facing violence from students are leaving profession

After teaching for more than 20 years, one educator decided last December she’d had enough. She retired, but it was earlier than planned.

“I would have loved to continue teaching for another three, five years, but due to the behaviors and the lack of support, and the safety issues, I didn’t feel safe,” she told Channel 9′s Jonathan Lowe.

She asked we not use her name or mention the local school where she spent seven years. She said she didn’t just feel unsafe at the school, but also wasn’t supported.

“I’ve been kicked, I’ve been pinched. Students have tried to bite me, I’ve had bruises on my legs from that,” she told Lowe. “A student threatened to throw a chair at me. Another colleague was shoved and punched in the stomach.”

But a series of incidents involving a second grade student is what she said pushed her over the edge.

“This particular second grade student had made threats to shoot all the teachers and shoot all the students,” she said.

“Three weeks later, I encountered that student with a gun, in his front pocket of his sweatshirt. I immediately removed the student from the classroom and restrained him in the hallway while he was fighting to get away from me.”

She said that gun was actually a realistic-looking toy gun. Even so, she didn’t think school administrators took the threats seriously.

“The student was in second grade and they can’t suspend a second grade student,” she said.

She said it was traumatic for her when the student was put back in her class.

“That just solidified my decision to leave,” she said. “I did not feel safe.”

Cox Media Group gathered comments from teachers in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Washington, about violence in the classroom.

‘Hardly no support’

Student assaults on teachers, whether verbal or physical, are a concerning trend.

Channel 9 partnered with our sister stations across the country to ask teachers about their experiences with student assaults. More than 8,000 teachers in 34 states weighed in, including 857 from North and South Carolina.

For example, a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools teacher said they were just out of physical therapy after a student with previous aggression fits kicked their knee in.

A Rowan County teacher described being hit in the face with a lap desk by a student, causing a scratched cornea. They said the student was suspended for just three days before returning to the same classroom.

Last year, Lowe spoke with battered and bruised substitute teacher Renata Horton.

“She got her hands on me, and she jumped behind me and was choking me back here and pulling me on my neck and pulling all my hair,” she told Lowe then.

Horton was talking about when two female students attacked her in a classroom.

“I’m hurt that I didn’t have hardly no support today,” Horton had said.

Leaving the profession

Teachers who took part in our survey described similar experiences. Of those who responded, 70% said violence has caused them to consider leaving the profession, either quitting or retiring.

Dr. Susan McMahon led an American Psychological Association task force that studied incidents of violence against teachers.

“We sort of live in a society where violence is an issue, and I think that schools could be considered a microcosm of our larger society,” she said.

Dr. McMahon said when educators leave the classroom, there’s a direct impact to those who stay.

“When people are leaving, that stresses the existing people,” she said. “And then, of course, often people are leaving because they’ve had really pretty serious traumatic experiences with violence and aggression.”

Cox Media Group gathered comments from teachers in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Washington, about violence in the classroom.

More than a third of respondents from the Carolinas said they’d been subjected to physical violence from a student more than once, and 63% said they experienced verbal abuse many times.

“I think it’s certainly a crisis in our country,” McMahon said.

We also asked teachers if they generally feel safe in the classroom. Of the respondents, 64% said “yes,” but more than half reported feeling afraid to go to school “sometimes.” In addition, 23% said their school does very little to deter violence.

Despite how it ended, the teacher told Lowe she misses the career she loved and she worries the violence is causing lasting damage to her beloved profession.

“My hope and prayers would be that the public, the school administration, the school board, the government officials would take notice and realize what teachers are going through,” she said.

(WATCH BELOW: CMS hosts job fair for thousands of potential teachers)

Jonathan Lowe

Jonathan Lowe, wsoctv.com

Jonathan is a reporter for WSOC-TV.