Last Wednesday, the ABC reported a frightening spike of attacks on principals. Australian Catholic University revealed through their annual Australia Principal Occupational Health, Safety and Wellbeing survey that 45% had experienced threats from parents and students. 37% claimed that they had been physically attacked. These figures from last year were higher than 2011 – 2017.
This is clearly unacceptable. No, that’s not strong enough. It’s appalling. And I don’t doubt that school teachers are receivers of abuse, too, probably at a similar rate. So, what is going on?
Let me say from the outset that I don’t propose bringing back corporal punishment in schools. It was banned for a reason, probably the risk of teachers going overboard. But principals have slowly begun to lose powers to expel or suspend disruptive or dangerous students.
Last year, the Victorian government introduced a process that allowed principals to plead their case on why a student should be expelled. This move was slammed as, yet more red tape.
Physical discipline is another issue. I’m not talking about corporal punishment, but rather, using physycality as a restraint. Earlier this year, principal of Manor Lakes P – 12 College, Steve Warner, was suspended after footage showed him dragging a nine – year student by the arm across the playground. To their credit, other staff defended Mr. Warner, arguing that he was trying to prevent the student from attacking a pregnant teacher. (The sister of the nine year – old deny that he hit or kicked anyone and said that he suffered anxiety and ADHD).
Will the fear of controversy prevent principals or teachers intervening in the future? Only time will tell. I could understand why they wouldn’t want to risk it.
Undermined at every turn
When I was growing up, I often heard how past generations were expected to respect authority, including teachers. Disrespect was not toledated.
It’s not only students that seem to have lost respect. As the ABC article pointed out, parents have, too. Also, the media has a lot to answer for. How many times have you heard commentators smearing teachers as ‘socialists’ and accusations of them ‘indoctrinating’ children as if they are some sort of sociopathic cult leaders?
Teachers are also expected to perform magic; keep on top of paper work and red tape, and make sure students in years Three, Five, Seven and Nine all top the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN).
Anti – bullying is another losing battle. I get that bullying rates shouldn’t be exaggerated, but they shouldn’t be ignored, either. Teachers doing their best to address bullying should be applauded. Teachers should not have been painted as predators when Safe Schools was implemented across multiple schools. Could people offer a different perspective? Sure. But teachers who want to support LGBTQ+ youth should not be unjustly smeared.
I’m not saying teachers are perfect. I’m not saying that improvements can’t be made to the education system. But I can’t see how we can expect students get the best results when teachers and principals are abused and their efforts denigrated by societty. We, or rather the next generations, will reap the results.