“You can’t tackle that subject.” “That’s too controversial!” “That doesn’t really happen.” These are things I was told when I dared to delve into the subject of children abusing teachers in the classroom. That was in the early 1980s. Now, decades later, it’s worse. Last week, the Newport News, Va. police chief said a 6year old boy, in the midst of an altercation with his 25-year-old elementary school teacher, pulled out a gun and shot her. The chief said it was no accidental shooting, but deliberate. Later reports said the teacher, after being shot, safely ushered the other children out of the classroom, then herself got out. How in the world could this be? A mere ﬁrstgrader! It left the world stunned. But not me.
I’m a former career educator who served 31 years in the Palm Beach County School District. I served as a dean of students and assistant principal among other roles. I know without a doubt that children do indeed abuse teachers in the classroom. I saw it happen from morning until the end of the school day.
That’s why I was appalled when I was told I couldn’t do my research in Palm Beach County when I decided to do my dissertation for my Ph.D on this very subject. They told me it didn’t happen and I was not welcome to do my study in their county, where I lived and worked.
But with the help of an associate, nearby Miami-Dade County welcomed me, and I did my research there. Thank God that Miami was more realistic and had their eyes open to the real world. Or shall I say to the real school world. I ended up becoming the ﬁrst person in Florida to produce a dissertation on the issue, and only the second in the United States to do so. I ended up in newspapers and on the television news during Black History Month because I stood my ground.
Now here we are all these years later, facing this very issue involving a ﬁrstgrader. We don’t know all the answers about this devastating situation. But some of the answers don’t matter. I’ve seen children of every race, creed and color use violence against their teachers. I’ve seen children from all socioeconomic backgrounds use violence against their teacher. Their race doesn’t matter and the family’s ﬁnancial wherewithal doesn’t matter.
What we can say is that this child needs help. His family needs help. He doesn’t need to be locked up or placed behind bars. He needs medical and/or mental health assistance. His custodial family needs parenting help. He needs a medical and mental evaluation before he can be brought back into the classroom. If not, the teachers and the other students are at risk.
The critical question is, did he display abnormal behavior in the classroom before this tragedy? if so was it reported? if reported, what was done about it? Clearly if there were policies in place, they failed. But all too often policies aren’t in place, or aren’t enforced. And when this happens, circumstances like this are bound to happen year after year. What is the outcome if you don’t enact policies, implement policies or upgrade policies? We know the outcome. It’s not only a tragedy but a travesty.
I received my Ph.D in 1983. Has anything changed since then? No. It’s gotten worse. So what are we going to do? Come on school systems around the world! Come on educators! Come on families! Let’s help our children! They are our babies. Our precious commodities. Stop letting them down with weapons accessible to them. Stop demonstrating violence in the home. Stop allowing them to see violence as a solution to disputes. Start holding school districts accountable. Start making change.
If we don’t address this problem, we’ll be right back here again asking how someone so young, so little and with such an undeveloped mind, can commit such a hardened and heinous act. As a parent, former daycare owner and career educator, I will always ﬁght for the children. I wish above all that they would thrive in every sense of the word. Don’t you? Then let’s coalesce around these children, I implore you. Let’s all make a difference. Now!
Dr. Elizabeth Alderman received her
Bachelor of Science Degree in Business from Florida A&M University, her master’s degree from Florida Atlantic University, her Educational Specialist degree from
NOVA University and her Ph.D from
Florida State University. She is the author of two books. Contact her at 561-2255478 or firstname.lastname@example.org.