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Courtney Langton

Courtney is an aspiring high school teacher. Her teachables are History and English, but she's happy to teach anything that doesn't involve numbers or formulas. Her particular interest is in promoting gender equity and anti-oppression both in and outside the classroom. She writes a detailed To-Do list every morning, and enjoys nothing more than a good book and a plate of bacon on a rainy Saturday.

Jonathan Wong

Jonathan's primary interest is moral education. His teachable subjects are English and Music. He encourages critical thinking and hopes to teach his students to recognize, and strive for, what is truly important to them without forgetting to be compassionate, tolerant, and open-minded along the way. He likes making analogies and his favourite is one that compares life to jumping on a trampoline.

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ARCHIVES: June 2009 July 2009 August 2009 September 2009 October 2009 November 2009 December 2009 January 2010 March 2010

RE: Violence in Schools
Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Judging by the large number of articles I've found on this topic, we're clearly not the first ones to tackle it. All you have to do is type "teacher protocol breaking up fights," or something similar, into Google and you get a whole slew of results that address this same question - except for the page titled "Breaking up with facebook is hard to do" which locked onto the "protocol" for making up after a "Facebook fight".

There isn't a blanket protocol for teachers to follow in the event of a fight. I've been fortunate enough to have never had to break up a fight that involved weapons, but something tells me that, like Courtney, my first instinct would be to try and stop a fight regardless (at least, at the moment) of personal safety.

This is where it gets tricky. Teachers are not legally obliged to do anything that puts their personal safety at risk. However, teachers are legally obliged to do their best to resolve the conflict and ensure the safety of their students. You can see how there might be a... conflict of interest here. Examining this from a purely "personal choice" point of view (we'll get into legal/political ramifications in a minute), this is the part where idealism clashes with reality. SHOULD teachers have to endanger their safety for the sake of their students... on the whole, I would say no. WOULD we endanger ourselves for the sake of our students, well, it seems like Courtney and I would.

Like Courtney said, part of what makes a good teacher, a good teacher, is an instinctive inclination towards the good of our students. There isn't very much time to think when a fight breaks out. It's a judgment call a lot of the times. I mean, I would prefer not to... die, but it's something that I think we simply have to leave to the discretion of each individual teacher. A teacher who doesn't get physically involved shouldn't be blamed for looking out for personal safety; especially if weapons are involved (right? Because seriously, if two 9-year olds are going at it with their fists... just break them up... you'll live).

Personally, I think the most important thing/the thing we should try to do (or not to do, in this case)... I think we should be careful about assigning blame. The issue becomes infinitely more complex (needlessly so) if we try to establish whether or not teachers "should" get physically involved. Because as it stands, there isn't an answer; or rather, there are points to be made for both sides. I would be very hesitant to pronounce, in any case, whether or not a teacher "should" or "should not" have gotten physically involved. As long as they are using their discretion to act in the best interests and safety of everyone - including themselves - let them do what they think is right or necessary and instead of debating about what they ought to have done, as if there was 1 correct response, find ways to ensure that they don't have to make that same call again.

By the by, self-defense/disarming classes are probably not the worst idea for teachers. Also not the worst ideas:

1. Sending for help (ideally, you want more than 1 adult helping you).
2. Sonorously commanding them to cease and desist (recommended first step).
3. NOT getting between a fight - break it up from one end or the other (this, so I read, is important for ensuring personal safety).

And all this without the legal/political aspect to teachers being physically involved in fights! We are, after all, part of a community so it's not just our own beliefs we have to deal with, but the beliefs of everyone else involved.

First issue: being charged for injuring a student during the process of break up. This will, no doubt, vary from school board to school board (so check your protocol) but as a general rule, we are allowed to use force but... uh... no more than the minimal necessary force to ensure peace, safety, and order. In other words, I think we are protected from injuries (to the students) that may incur during the break-up process. But you probably want to double-check with your board policy on this.

Second issue: being charged for NOT breaking up a fight. Yeah, this is why breaking up fights can get complicated. Because while we are not legally obliged to put ourselves in harm's way in order to break up a fight, that doesn't mean we can ignore a fight. We are required (quite rightfully I think) to do everything in our power to stop the fight. So if we are perceived to not put in the required effort, we would be... I think "negligent" is the term used.

I, too, have probably generated more questions than answers. Such is life. Tell us your thoughts!

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