The Malta Independent 19 March 2019, Tuesday

TMID Editorial: Aggression at school - Protect our teachers

Friday, 11 January 2019, 10:06 Last update: about 3 months ago

Shocking figures released yesterday by the Malta Union of Teachers (MUT) show that the majority of educators experience some form of aggression in school.

87% of respondents said they had experienced aggression.

23% said they had experienced aggression on a daily basis.

Another 23% said they experienced it on a weekly basis.

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Unsurprisingly, 75% said the perpetrators were students. Perhaps more worryingly, 29% said they experienced aggression from parents.

 12% said they experienced aggression from colleagues, and 9% said superiors.

Perhaps the most shocking statistic is the one that says that only 60% of educators who experience aggression actually report it. This means that four out of every ten cases get swept under the carpet.

Such incidents might take place in the class room or on the school premises, but also outside and through online communication.

MUT said teachers experienced anything from threats and foul language to biting, scratching, hitting and throwing objects.

Now, we have all heard horror stories about educators being intimidated, abused or assaulted by students or parents, with some schools being more prone to such incidents than others, but the data published yesterday by the MUT portrays a situation that is way more serious than previously thought.

The information received is of great concern and should be a wake-up call to educational authorities and employers, said Marco Bonnici, President of the MUT, adding that many educators felt helpless. “The general feeling seems to be that educators in our schools do not feel supported, with many even claiming that some schools try to minimise and hide their concerns and incidents,” he said.

If this is truly the case, this is outrageous. It is unacceptable for any form of abuse on teachers, or on any person for that matter, to be treated in such a way. Educators, especially those working at secondary and tertiary level, where the level of abuse suffered may be even greater than in other areas, should feel comfortable and safe doing their job. Experiencing aggression and abuse is one thing. Feeling abandoned by your superiors is another thing entirely.

The MUT President also said yesterday that the data, especially when it comes to students throwing tantrums, may shed light on parenting in general. He also highlighted that parents are often involved in verbal and physical abuse on teachers.

So the authorities would do well to not only ensure that educators are working in a safe and protected environment but also that parenting problems are identified and tackled.

They should also look into why many educators do not report cases of abuse and aggression. It probably has something to do with the fact that teachers feel that they are not supported – that it is probably useless to report because no action will be taken, or worse, because they might be told to stay quiet.

MUT said it was launching two new services for educators who experience such situations – an SMS emergency line and a psycho-social service.  These measures are positive but they are only aimed at dealing with abuse after it takes place. The government, on the other hand, should work on solutions for such abuse to be avoided in the first place, or at least minimized.

MUT yesterday reiterated its appeal for the implementation of proper security measures in schools to protect educators at their workplace, including the continued presence of a security officer in schools and the strengthening of Police presence at the beginning and end of the school day, when students are going in and out of the school.

While this will not solve all issues, it would be a good start, MUT said. We agree, the security and wellbeing of both teachers and students at school is of paramount importance.

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