Sunday, February 20, 2011

School Fights

Many teachers feel intimidated when a fight occurs in the playground. Fights are things that are skirted around by teaching institutions and rarely spoken of in PD other than in strict legalistic terms.

I'm of reasonably slight build and am considerably smaller than many of the year 11 and 12 students. I'm bigger than many of the female staff also on duty.

So what happens when a fight occurs? How do you, as a teacher, alter an out of control situation when you are physically incapable of stopping students from injuring others and yourself.

The school and how students view the school is a big part of this. I am lucky in that students at our school respect teachers and despite diffusing multiple fights in my career (with male students many times larger than myself and females that had little control over their actions) in all cases my status as a teacher has meant that I have not been at risk. Students seem to know a line that they cannot cross.

Yet I fear this may not always be the case. Students with disabilities are common in school grounds and anecdotal evidence suggest that mainstream students are becoming less able to control their actions.

Practical (not legal) training of staff is necessary before real injury becomes more common. My suggestions are based on practical observation.

1) When on duty stay in line of sight of another teacher on duty. Be prepared to render assistance at short notice. Know the parts of the duty area where you pass from line of sight from one teacher to another.

2) Survey who will take the primary role in diffusing a situation.

3) Issue a command(using full teacher voice) to stop to both parties and (if wise) get between the two students. Hopefully you can skip stage 4 if both students react appropriately. If you are taking the secondary role call for assistance (preferably from a deputy or someone that students are more likely to take seriously.) Seek out the amateur camera people and ensure that they are dealt with.

4) Have the secondary escort at least one of the parties to a safe area (such as the main office, tell the student where to go if you are the only one present and restraining the other student). Do not try to ascertain blame at this point. You may need to restrain the most out of control student for a short time to prevent a running fight towards the office if you, other students or the out of control student themselves are at risk of harm. Speak in a soothing tone to the student being restrained. As soon as the other student is in a safe zone release the student. Be prepared to restrain the student again if he has not regained control and is at risk of causing further bodily harm. Restraint is a last resort and usually indicates that intervention was too late. Holding a wrist is often sufficient. Usually they will seek somewhere quiet although be mindful of students seeking self harm at this point. Damage to property is repairable, staff and student injuries may not be.

5) Diffuse the audience and escort the remaining student to a team leader or deputy.

Students need you as teacher to be in control. Being calm is a key part of this. Don't do anything extra during a crisis time that is unnecessary to the safety of the students. If you are not able to fulfil your responsibilities in stage 4 then consider the legal ramifications of your actions and the risk of injury to other teachers and students.

I am not a lawyer and suggest this article only as a way to promote discussion within your school. I am not a principal - it is your school executive that will dictate what you may or may not do as a teacher on duty. This is an article purely of opinion and you as a teacher need to decide what you are willing to do in the course of being a teacher.

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