An altercation between a student and a substitute teacher | Photo Credit: Atinka News

By Giani Clarkson

Buffalo Springfield wrote a song in 1967 called “For What It’s Worth”. 

The song has a classic opening, and it goes like this:

There’s something happening here

But what it is 

Ain’t exactly clear.

This week it became very clear to me when a young man inside his classroom attacked a young man I mentor. He is a bright, young, phenomenal teacher. He is an amazing young man and has a big heart. He is connected to the work and wants to do good things. He is selfless and surrenders his weekends to mentor this young man, and he was attacked. As I talked to him, I was disappointed. And he was disappointed. I was not disappointed in him. I admired his reliance because I knew he would return to the classroom the next day. Teaching is hard work. Teaching is HEART WORK. I talked to him, and I could hear the hurt in his voice, breaking my heart. It broke my heart because the sacred line between teacher and student was broken and is being broken across America. 

Although teaching is hard work and “heart” work, something is happening here inside American classrooms, making teaching less desirable. Recent research has revealed that 4 out of 5 teachers have experienced some type of violence while in the classroom. The teachers in the study stated that they had been harassed due to verbal or physical violence and that these acts of violence have happened to students and parents. We are not talking about Fight Club. But fight club is happening where learning should be taking place.  This fight club is affecting the status of teachers in America. In a recent study done by Forbes magazine when talking to teachers, 50% of teachers have considered leaving the profession due to safety issues. In addition, 55% of teachers would not want their children to become teachers. Some teachers have stated that some violent threats from parents and students have come through social media on their personal pages. That is a terrible precedent for a career that helps shape America’s future leaders. In addition, the landscape of classrooms has led to many school systems being understaffed and classrooms being taught by substitutes who are not experts in subject matters. 

To compound the disrespect of the teaching profession, a couple of years ago, a “Slap a Teacher” challenge was released on Tik Tok. The challenge was for students to slap a teacher and record it for social media. The origin of the challenge was connected to a school community in California. Although the “Slap a Teacher” challenge did not gain ground across the country and only cited incidents in two other states, it gave birth to a series of different challenges that caused damage to the school community. For example, the “Destroy a School Bathroom” challenge led to students stealing toilet seats and ripping soap dispensers from the wall in school communities nationwide. This social media trend left the facilities staff inside my school community with many long days cleaning up many bathrooms found trash cans and toilet seats destroyed and flipped over and markers written on mirrors. What led students to have a lack of reverence for the school community? 

One part is that the evolution of social media trends has led students to be more willing to follow popular hashtags rather than be respectful of school and culture. I believe three major solutions will reverse the current tide of teachers being attacked in school. 

1.)   These attacks against teachers must be taken seriously.

Teachers often feel disrespected because when attacked, students rarely have repercussions..Additionally, attacks on teachers have increased post Covid, according to a study by The American Psychological AssociationTask Force on Violence against Educators and School Personnel. We must protect our most valuable resource inside school communities by sending students and teachers a message of no tolerance. The past school year saw one of the most significant mass exodus of teachers leaving the profession, and close to 75% of educators stated that violence against teachers was the reason. Conversely, believe it or not, when teachers attack students, the trauma impacts the teacher, the student, and the students that witness the attack. Studies have shown that students who have witnessed teachers being attacked have experienced the effects of trauma.. 

2. Teachers must be respectful to their students.

This relationship between teachers and students has taken such a downward spiral teachers have become more of a bully and less a mentor. Teachers should provide strong mentorship, not antagonize students.. My Dad talked about how teaching is one of the last respectable professions; we must be the gatekeeper of ethics, not just the teachers of knowledge. 

3. Community events need to return to the landscape of school culture. Now that we are no longer in a pandemic but rather an endemic, schools need to hold more events so teachers, parents, and students can see each other in different lights. This does not mean more parent-teacher conferences; instead, schools should present  plays, award ceremonies, and family game nights. These events create ties that bind us, and we no longer see each other as enemies but thought partners and neighbors. We are strangers living in strange times; our community is evidence of this. That is why violence seems to be the answer amongst us. 

I will never lose hope in the education system as I will never lose hope in my mentee and many brave men and women inside of the classrooms across the country who inspire kids to dream regardless of their nightmarish circumstances.