School violence is an issue that jumps out at us menacingly from the headlines (bloglines?); we are left appalled but not terribly shocked. With observation and commentary, check out Edwonk , Number Two Pencil , and Mr. Babylon as they inform the discussion.
At my school we know a little something about dangerous learning environments. Clearly, the threat of violence is inherent in our work. It’s a fact of life. So how to explain that we teachers generally feel safe and protected?
Partly, it’s our mindset. Instead of brushing over issues or conflicts, we approach them head on. We know that’s how to foster change. By welcoming conflict, we are able to see what must be done. My longtime mentor often reminded me, “If we don’t see that behavior, we can’t deal with it.”
It’s also a matter of confidence in our training. Many of us have therapeutic restraint training, and all are instructed in the art of non-threatening posturing that helps de-escalate crises. We are “fully” staffed (which helps tremendously) and have a time-out booth for use if necessary. We are as prepared as we can be. That makes a big difference.
In addition, here is a short list of “DO”s that help me (and my interns) make it through each day:
1. Keep a cool head when students are in crisis.
2. Develop a thick skin so insults and inappropriate talk aren't personally devastating.
3. Think on your feet: be ready for anything that is thrown your way (sometimes literally!).
4. Weed through the advice and suggestions of colleagues to find what works for you.
5. Take the time to unwind and soothe your mind at days' end.
6. Remember the adage "Everyone Makes Mistakes".
7. Forgive yourself when you make mistakes.
8. Remember that the pain a child creates is never more than the pain they are feeling.
9. Keep asking for help.
10. Listen…really listen to your students.
Still, the question lingers. Why? Why teach emotionally disabled kids when the risks are ever present, the stress is off the charts, and the rewards few and far between? The answer for me is a bit philosophical: “When nothing is certain, everything is possible”(English author Margaret Drabble).