Upfront

Teachers across the United States report alarmingly high rates of personally experiencing student violence and harassment at school, according to an article published in American Psychologist.

"Violence directed against teachers is a national crisis with far-reaching implications and deserves inclusion in the school violence equation," said the article's lead author, Dorothy Espelage, PhD, of the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. "We are proposing that any comprehensive examination of school violence must consider the complex dynamics that affect teachers and other school personnel as well as students, parents and the entire community." Espelage was chair of APA's Task Force on Classroom Violence Directed Against Teachers, which issued a report in 2011.

Violence against teachers has received surprisingly limited attention, with only 14 published studies having examined violence directed at teachers in schools, according to the authors. The APA task force conducted one of the national studies, which found that 80 percent of the teachers surveyed reported being victimized at school at least once in the then-current or prior year. Of those, 94 percent said they had been victimized by students — 44 percent reported being physically attacked and 72 percent reported harassment, while 50 percent said they experienced theft or property damage at school. The findings were based on survey responses from almost 3,000 K–12 teachers in 48 states.

The article provides detailed recommendations aimed at preventing violence against teachers, including the creation of a national registry maintained by the U.S. Department of Education to track such incidents. The article also suggests requiring all educators to master classroom management training before they are licensed to teach.

To address student behaviors that can lead to violence against teachers, the authors recommend tailoring efforts to individual students, focusing on reasons why problem behaviors occur rather than on ways to stop the behavior once it happens.

"Professional psychologists can play a critical role in helping prevent violence against teachers, which in turn can make school a safer place for all concerned," Espelage says.

—Lisa Bowen