Concerns for teacher welfare were raised yesterday at the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) congress in Co Wexford, where one delegate described a case in which a student told a pregnant teacher he would “kick the baby out of her”.
TUI general secretary John MacGabhann said violence is not the norm in classrooms, but is a significant issue in some schools.
“In some instances, school management simply do not discharge their obligations either in terms of applying their own procedures or processes, or following through on those procedures or processes or, in some instances, in terms of their obligations in terms of health and safety at work legislation,” he said.
“There is a consistent pattern of intimidatory behaviour, intimidatory language, inappropriate behaviour, sometimes very sexualised behaviour, inappropriate sexualised behaviour. It’s often shot through with a type of misogyny as well.
“I can’t by any means say it’s always focused on women, but I think it more likely it is focused on women more of the time and it bespeaks something about society at large.
There have been some absolutely egregious attacks, some of them to the point where, in other circumstances, you would probably regard them as requiring action at law. But teachers are reluctant to take that action, and certainly school management does not in the main wish teachers to take action even, quite frankly, on occasions where they should.
Asked why management is failing to adequately discipline such students, Mr MacGabhann said no member of staff is entirely exempt from feeling intimidated, and many principals feel these students will just be “recycled” into schools.
“What is happening in the general community does find reflection inside the school, but we’re not going to allow that to be the case, if what is happening outside in the general community represents a type of lawlessness, where minimum standards of respect and behaviour are simply not observed,” he said. “We will protect our members.
“The TUI is not saying we have a generation of students who are out of control, we are saying there are some who are out of control.”
Moira Leydon, Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland assistant general secretary, said the extent to which school management is overwhelmed in recent years means they are losing focus on staff wellbeing.
“It’s not surprising to hear that principals are sometimes doing nothing,” she said.
“In some cases, decisions [on disciplinary matters] aren’t properly communicated to staff when they haven’t dealt with an issue as teachers might have expected. Some principals are perceived as being weak in their response to violence by pupils.
"But in the majority of cases, it’s one of the priorities of the school to make teachers’ welfare and follow through appropriately on incidents.”