Monday, 12 October 2015

Violence in the Classroom- A Personal Account

Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself-John Dewey
School safety is the foundation on which the teaching and learning process is embedded. Jamaica has had and continues to have a serious problem with crime and violence. We live in a violent society and the violence we experience daily has slowly crept into our schools and classrooms. Many Jamaicans have had to install surveillance cameras and grills in their homes to give them an added level of protection and peace of mind in the midst of the growing levels of violence. Notwithstanding this, our schools and by extension our classrooms have not been immune to what happens in the wider society where crime and violence is ever increasing. On Tuesday, October 6, 2015 my life changed in a drastic way. At approximately 1 pm I was in a grade 9 class teaching. During the lesson I was hit in my left ear by an object which based on where I was standing was fired from a student from the class. My back was turned to the class since I was writing on the chalkboard. When I asked who fired the object which later turned out to be a toy gun no one claimed responsibility. However, I saw a male student with the toy gun in his hands when I turned around to face the class. He was later identified by other students of the class as the one responsible for firing the toy gun. Within minutes of the incident occurring I made a report to the grade nine supervisor. I had to seek medical attention the following day, Wednesday, October 7, 2015 due to the severe pain and discomfort I was experiencing. An examination by the doctor revealed an abrasion to my left ear. I am still experiencing pain and discomfort in my left ear as a result of the injury sustained. I am not sure whether this injury to my ear will have any long term effects. I am hoping and praying that it does not. On my return to work on Monday, October 12, 2015  I handed the principal a written report of the incident. The principal immediately sent for the student. I feel a sense of violation. I am extremely upset. This was an intentional act of violence. However, I am comforted by the fact that a few of the students of the class have expressed their disgust with their classmate behavior. They have also expressed deep sorrow for what happened to me on the afternoon of October 6, 2015. Yet, each time I go to a classroom and turn my back to write on the chalkboard I get anxious not knowing if I will become target practice for some student.
Schools are to be safe zones for both students and teachers. I did not expect that my own students would have harmed me in this way. Added to this personal injury is the culture of silence which is pervasive in the wider Jamaican society. A number of students in the class knew who the culprit was who fired the toy gun, however, maybe out of fear they were unwilling at the time of the incident to disclose his name.
During the same week of October 5, 2015 a male student of Brown's Town High School was stabbed to death on the school's campus by another male student. Two more Jamaican male students have had their education disrupted by violence. One is dead and the other is in police custody. What happened at Brown's Town High School on Thursday has an all-too-familiar ring, as more and more violent encounters are recorded in our school community. The latest victim is a Jamala Barnaby, a grade-11 student of Brown's Town High. The news could have been worse because three other students were injured in another incident in Spanish Town earlier this week. Disturbingly, when these incidents occur, one is tempted to conclude that schools are no longer safe places of  teaching and learning but, instead, battlefields. Data from the Ministry of Education reinforces the gravity of the situation regarding security and safety our schools are facing. For the period 2011 to 2013, a total of 1,288 violent incidents were recorded in the nation's schools. These included robberies, fights and 3 deaths.
The classroom has become a battle ground where a toxic and crude version of masculinity exists which robs our male students of their full potential. This toxic notion of masculinity is played out daily in the interaction our men have with women, as well as male to male interaction. Alarmingly, not much is being done to curb this unacceptable behaviour. We need to act now to change this narrative. Our schools must return to safe zones for all stakeholders. The state and school must be responsible for the safety of all teachers and students while they are at school. There needs to be some form of compensation for teachers who are injured on the job. This is certainly an area that the Jamaica Teachers Association (JTA) could and need to explore. There should be some insurance for teachers to access who are injured by students while on the job. It cannot be business as usual. This is what is so wrong with Jamaica. Jamaica's education system lack accountability at all levels and until measures are put in place we can expect to have more incidence of violence in our schools. 
I am still awaiting some form of justice. School safety is the most critical pillar of the teaching and learning experience. If our teachers do not feel safe, they cannot be as effective as they ought to in the classroom. Conversely, if our students do not feel safe, they cannot learn. I hope that my personal account serves as a catalyst or call to action for the Ministry of Education and other stakeholders in education to work assiduously to ensure that our schools develop a zero-tolerance approach against violence in any form or shape. Clearly much more resources are required. Some schools needs more scaffolding than others regarding school safety. I have forgiven the student who attacked me. I hope he gets the help that he needs to turn his life around. 
In the words of Mahatma Gandhi "The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong".
#schoolsafety #education #violence #occupationalsafety #security #parenting #classroom #crime #pain #suffering