Fighting and School Violence Should Not Be Tolerated


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When you are a middle or high school public school teacher, events happen instantaneously, and you have to be equal to the task of confronting the challenge of an unexpected situation face to face. You never know when or where school violence will erupt; a teacher only knows that it inevitably will.

Teachers not only must be wary of being inadvertently injured by enraged “students” fighting in the hallway or the cafeteria, a peer might even wind-up becoming a threat to one’s physical safety. I recall one particular eighth grade Washington trip. As usual, I was chaperoning one hundred twenty eighth graders on the Hammonton Middle School’s annual class DC trip. We had just arrived back at the Mt. Vernon Motel after visiting the Jefferson Memorial. The nine chaperones were fatigued, but the “students” were still rambunctious.

Since the “children” had been well behaved, the school rewarded them with a pizza party in the motel’s Madison Room. Five of the Hammonton’ chaperones escorted the first half of “students” from the party back to their rooms, which were located in a remote section of the expansive motel. The other half of the entourage was later escorted to their quarters by three other chaperones and myself.

Another male teacher and I made sure all of our “students” had evacuated the Madison Room, and we brought up the rear of the second batch of sixty kids. Suddenly, a male chaperone from a Catholic high school class that had also been staying at the Tyson’s Corner motel came running over to us, screaming the larynx out of his throat.

“Are you in charge of those nasty kids on the other side of the building?” he hollered.

“Yes we are,” I answered. “There are five of our chaperones already over there.”

“Well, your kids are banging their fists on the walls and setting a bad example for my kids!” he angrily shouted with a crimson face. “You’d better get over there quick and settle them down or I’m gonna’ call the cops!” “Look,” I calmly replied, “I’ve been assigned to this group of sixty students. Our school has five very capable chaperones already over there to deal with that problem.”

Apparently, the livid fellow did not relish my explanation. He took a huge swing at my jaw. I ducked down just in the nick of time. His blow glanced off the top of my head and knocked my baseball cap off.

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I latched onto the man’s right arm, and my fellow teacher gripped his left hand.
Finally, the crazed chaperone realized that we weren’t exactly wimps and that we could effectively restrain him with our combined strength if we wanted to. He shrugged from our grasps and paced away in a huff.

“I don’t think he likes public school kids,” my colleague stated.

“I don’t think he’s a Phillies’ fan either,” I replied.

So, even on what appears to be a pleasant field trip, your physical existence could possibly be endangered by an upset chaperone from another school suddenly going ballistic on you.

When my teacher friend and I got back to our quarters, we heard a disturbance originating from the adjoining room. Four of our “students” had indeed been pounding on the walls and had effectively antagonized a drunk tractor trailer driver occupying the neighboring room. The tattooed big-rig operator had broken a bottle of Southern Comfort, and the unstable adult was threatening to cut up the suddenly startled kids with the shattered weapon in his hand.

My fellow teacher and I convinced the agitated guy that we were the “students’” teachers and sincerely apologized to him for their obnoxious behavior. The man exited the kids’ room, muttering under his breath how he would return and inflict serious damage on the “students” if they persisted in their high jinks.

Remarkably, and much to our relief, the four boys toned-down their boisterous antics and went to sleep shortly after midnight. They finally became aware that not all adults could tolerate their conduct like their parents and teachers could.

Fighting occurs quite regularly in public schools. During my thirty-four year teaching career, I had the displeasure of having to break-up over two hundred and fifty “student’” fights, which amounts to about seven and a half altercations per year.

I recollect one really terrible girl battle that had erupted between the middle school’s red and yellow brick buildings as the “students” were returning to classes from lunch recess. Girl fights are quite dangerous because they involve pulling hair and scratching and clawing with long fingernail/talons. Two big girls were pummeling and mauling each other as if they were vicious alley cats.

Charlie Southard, a very affable elderly teacher and I managed to separate the felines four times, but the battle ensued. That was one of the most difficult struggles I had ever dealt with, and it took Charlie and I a full five minutes to finally restore order amidst an overzealous audience of a hundred or so “student” spectators. Three weeks after the incident Charlie Southard died of a massive coronary attack. I often wonder if there had been any connection between the stress and strain of the wicked school’ fight and the shocking passing of my good friend and colleague.

Schools should not regard fighting as business as usual. It therefore is interpreted as “expected and acceptable behavior” by teens attending classes. Suspension is just a slap on the wrist. More severe penalties need to be enforced, and everyone must understand the consequences of violence and weapons in schools. A week’s suspension should be given to violators, and for second offenders, life in an “alternative school” for one full year. Public school “students” must always be exactly that, “ones who learn.” They have to respect public schools as sanctuaries where civilization (and not brutality) is mastered.

And now an even more grotesque phenomenon is infecting public schools. The “wolf pack” mentality is filtering into suburban schools from urban areas. Fights are often not one against one any more, knuckles against jaw, skin against flesh. Four might fight six, or maybe a “student” will be seriously injured because five others will throw him or her to the ground and then stomp on face and ribs with thick-soled boots. Compound fighting with drug problems, hostility, name-calling, blame-fixing and psychologically dysfunctional “at needs” kids in our public schools. Today’s teachers have a massive undertaking on their hands. “Keeping the lid on” has become just as important as conveying subject matter. Public schools are now largely “sociological” rather than “academic” institutions.

I am glad that my teaching career has ended. It is remarkable that I had endured thirty-four years (with many fond memories to balance out the negative ones) in that noble profession.

Forget those egotistical contestants on “Survivor” Island. Retiring teachers are the real true American survivors. It is a miracle that retiring teachers have lasted thirty-four years or more doing everything “outside of education” that is expected of them.

“Student fighting” comes with “the territory” of being a teacher. School violence has nothing to do with teaching or with learning, and it also should have nothing to do with American education. It’s about time that local boards of education demand reform from weak-hearted administrators. Crack down on disruptive “students” and start labeling them what they are, hooligans, felons and perpetrators of violence. It’s time to get “educational psychology” out of school discipline and psychology out of the administration of American law. They both undermine social stability and criminal justice. School boards and administrators need to abandon “political correctness” and start showing the courage to make the right, hard decisions.

If a school fight happens within a teacher’s jurisdiction first thing in the morning, it could ruin an instructor’s entire day. The teacher might “transfer” his or her aggravation to some innocent good “student” in a scheduled class later in the day.
Fortunately, some teaching’ days are tranquil. On some other days, “the territory” could seem like the Wild, Wild West.


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