The story is one example of the intimidation, harassment, and assault suffered by teachers that were aired at the Teachers’ Union of Ireland’s annual congress in Wexford yesterday.
Audrey Cepeda is an English teacher at a second-level school in Coolock, and chair of the Dublin City branch of the TUI. Yesterday she raised some of the indiscipline issues at schools and other educational institutions that she says are not being addressed by management.
“Teachers would have objects thrown at them, nuts, bolts, cans of Coke, coins. Some might be pushed over, some maybe actually physically assaulted before anyone can intervene,” said Ms Cepeda.
“Sometimes it can be verbal assault, where students are in a teacher’s face threatening them. This is in front of their class, they can’t get out of the classroom to seek help and they’re quite frightened, they don’t know if it is going to escalate further.
“Sometimes students might swing for teachers, they may not connect, but in some schools or centres the following school day that student could be sitting back in front of you.”
Ms Cepeda said the lack of discipline sets a bad example to other students who see violent or abusive peers get away with bad behaviour.
There was a pregnant teacher who had to challenge a student due to his behaviour. He got quite aggressive, the teacher challenged him, kept very calm, told him his behaviour was not acceptable. He went for the teacher and told her — I won’t use the explicit language — but that he was going to kick the baby out of the teacher.
“The teacher got quite frightened and left the room. In that split second, as a teacher, you’re thinking ‘I can’t leave the room because this guy is hyped up and aggressive, and I can’t leave that person in that room with 20 other students, because obviously you have a duty of care to the other students.
“But this teacher felt she had no other option. She left the room and the student followed. She found a side room that she locked herself into and called the school office from her mobile phone,” said Ms Cepeda.
He was back in the classroom the next day. Subsequently, maybe three weeks down the line, he was suspended. But studies show that consequences need to be swift so students understand. Three weeks down the line they might have forgotten about it.
A motion put forward by Ms Cepeda’s branch was backed by delegates yesterday. It called on the TUI to conduct a study of members to gauge the level of work-related stress caused by a failure to properly discipline aggressive students.
“Teachers are facing, sometimes on a daily basis, quite stressful situations in work,” she said.
”Ms Cepeda said this then leads to teachers taking sick leave due to stress — but that they are afraid to put this on their sick cert.