Teachers speaking yesterday at the final day of the Irish National Teachers Organisation conference in Belfast shared their experiences of violence in the classroom.
Conference delegates heard from school teachers who are wearing hats, shields and shinguards in school to protect themselves from attacks which are often due to challenging behaviour.
The assaults, which include biting, hair pulling, kicking, pushing and throwing items of furniture, have lead many teachers to call for mandatory and standardised safety training for school staff in order to deal with challenging behaviour.
Angela Leonard, a principle at a Dublin school, described the steps teachers are taking to stay safe:
“We protect ourselves as best we can.
“I have one particular class at the moment.
“The staff come in early in the morning, they wear shields…they wear a bolero that covers their shoulders, their backs,
“They wear shinguards on top of that, they wear a hat to protect them from being hair-pulled and then they wear a fleece over that.”
Another teacher, Jane Bastable, said she has had to visit a doctor numerous times after being assaulted by pupils.
“My priority as the class teacher is the safety of my pupils and classroom.
“During this prioritisation I often receive kicks, hits, with open and closed hands, physical pushes, furniture items thrown at me.
“Bruises and cuts, et cetera.
“I have visited doctors.
“My job is physically and mentally draining on days such as stated above.”
The children involved may have emotional difficulties, including autistic spectrum disorder, intellectual disability, ADHD, ADD or oppositional defiance disorder, and some may be experiencing homelessness or serious family problems.
Ms Bastable said the teachers methods for dealing with aggressive behaviour are not adequate.
“We use low arousal techniques, moving away from the pupil and also distraction, but these don’t always work.
“This is a daunting part of my school day.
“We need intervention, but I have had no formal training as to how to deal with these attacks.
“I am at a loss as to how to deal with these attacks.”
Cork teacher Bríd Stack formally proposed a motion calling for standardised safety training for teachers, adding that teaching colleges do not offer training in how to deal with this issue.