A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Fight Club

Over at NYC Educator's place, there have been several posts about whether teachers should break up fights. NYC and other noble souls in that area tell us that they have been instructed NOT to intervene, and that if they get injured the DOE will not support them.

I wonder what the correlation is between this kind of policy and how many fights there are? I wonder if the viciousness of the fights that do occur is affected by this type of policy, of which certainly the students must be aware.

My school district aims the other direction. The last time I broke up a fight, I got hugged. By the principal. And the slugger's mom. And the slugger's dad. And by the way? I could have lived without those last two, since I felt that my yearly quota for physical contact with that family was already gravely exceeded.

Once a kid with "little man" syndrome, let's call him the Elf, smacked a BIG GUY upside the head at the lockers. Apparently, the Elf had been picking on BIG GUY all day. BIG GUY lost it and within five seconds had punched the Elf about four times and shoved him back through a doorway into my petite, 50ish friend, who was just walking toward her doorway. BIG GUY then had the Elf on the ground kicking him in the torso and the head.

Several kids ran and got me. A guy I taught with stood there softly chanting "stop" sotto voce. Yeah, that was effective. And he had witnessed his colleague being levelled.

I did my Voice of God "HEY! STOP!"-- BIG GUY looked up, and I put both my hands in the center of his chest and firmly but steadily pushed him off the Elf and back into a classroom. Did I mention that the Elf had a seizure disorder? No? Well, no WAY was I going to watch him getting kicked in the head, no matter how much he may have goaded the other kid.

So I broke BIG GUY out of his rage by asking him if he knew who I was. He blinked, mumbled, "Ms. Cornelius....." and suddenly got teary-eyed. I asked him if he was done, and he said yeah, and the other kids in the room began talking to him about cooling down and comforting him, because he really wasn't at heart a fighter.

I turned back, and the Elf was actually getting up off the ground to try to get a second helping of ass-whupping. So, keeping my eye on BIG GUY, who was now out of harm's way, we decided to keep the Elf on the ground, since he was far more dangerous on his feet.

Upshot? Suspensions for both, twice as long for the Elf as instigator, and we only had one more fight on the hallway the rest of the year, and no one was seriously hurt. It was all on videotape, so there was no question who had started it.

We never know what could happen to a kid in a fight. They could fall and fracture their skulls. They could bleed all over the place. They could break every bone in their hands. They could pull out bloody hanks of scalp and cause permanent nerve damage. I don't just fly in there uncontrollably. I once felt bad vibes when I walked in a hallway while I was subbing, and I turned around, walked right out, and got the cop. If I see an opportunity to intervene safely, I reserve the right to make that judgment for the greater good, and I do have a bit of training. I realize that I am taking a chance, but I have never seen our district not support a teacher trying to make the environment safer for everyone.

And kids rarely fight near me.

I can't imagine being told to just watch kids assault each other.


At 5/28/06, 11:03 PM, Blogger Laura(southernxyl) said...

A middle school child here in Memphis died a couple of years ago when he and his friends got into a scuffle in the bathroom. The reports were all garbled, but apparently they had a little half-ass wanna-be gang and the initiation was that you had to let your friends beat you up. One of them somehow kept pressure on his chest - kneeling on him? - until his heart stopped. They panicked and left him there. A teacher found him. It was too late for CPR. His friends and their families were just as remorseful as they could possibly be. There is a reason why fighting is against the rules, and I guess now they know.

My daughter says that the teachers did try to break up fights at her school. About halfway into her first semester in college she remarked in some surprise that she hadn't seen a fight yet. And you won't, I told her, but her comment gave me some insight into what she had been putting up with.

At 5/29/06, 7:57 AM, Blogger Amerloc said...

I never particularily cared that my district administration favored teacher's calling for help rather than actively moving to break up a fight - it was my turf, too, and I was going to keep it safe. Sure, each time was a risk, but I could never stand idly by and let kids fight.

Sorta like when I tended bar (only there I could throw a punch if it seemed necessary).

At 5/29/06, 4:16 PM, Blogger 100 Farmers said...

Everytime I have broken up a fight I have questioned why I put myself into the middle of it. Larger male tachers stand there and watch 5'3 me plowing through like a street cleaner. I hate to see kids hurt and in that moment, I guess I think damage control. BTW-girl fights tend to be much scarier and harder to break up, I have found.

At 5/29/06, 5:23 PM, Blogger NYC Educator said...

I don't disagree with you at all, by the way. That's just the way things are.

Another curious rule we have is that both participants of any fight are suspended, even if one of them just stood there and got hit.

Thank God Mayor Bloomberg is in charge.

At 5/29/06, 10:56 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

NYC, I completely understand your position, and I did not feel that you were disagreeing. However, I am not too sure how long I would last in a place with instructions like this-- that's just me.

I think you must be very strong to persevere in the face of an attitude like this. Especially since I have to wonder if it encourages MORE violence on the part of students-- they know they can get quite a few good blows in before anyone arrives to break them up.

At 5/30/06, 8:18 PM, Blogger Deb Sistrunk Nelson said...

This is a timely topic. My daughter, a teenager, brought up this issue recently when talking about a particular teacher at her school.

The teacher, according to my daughter, often dives in to break up fights, only to emerge in tears, saying that she has gotten hurt (nothing serious). My daughter thinks that in this case, the students are better at breaking up fights than this teacher. I think my daughter has a point. If a teacher decides to break up a fight, he or she should be skillful at it.

This is my first time visiting your site. I'm going to bookmark you. You have some very interesting posts.

At 5/30/06, 9:16 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

See, the fact is that I don't just "dive in there," and I certainly would never let on that I was hurt (tough old broad that I am) because
1. I practice two martial arts and I have also been trained in ways to break up fights by the district.
2. First consideration: do not give anyone the opportunity to hit you. I have had one kid swing on me in all the years I've taught, and he did not come close to hitting me. At the time, I was single-handedly keeping him and his brother from flying into another fight. The kids standing by let out gasps of outrage when they saw it, and one of the kids then grabbed the brother so I could stop the first kid.
3. I do not panic, and look for the opportunity. In every fight, there is a place where the kids get knocked apart for just a moment. If you can, that's when you separate them.
4. If you can't do this, then don't try. You will just make things worse.

At 5/31/06, 9:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please think about this and talk to a lawyer about this issue. This is how the case law comes down on the issue of teachers breaking up fights.

Teachers are not hired with a physical requirement like police and firefighters. Teachers are not trained by their employer to handle physical situations and the employer cannot train teachers to be physical due to not having a physical requirement in hiring. Therefore, a teacher who breaks up a fight is guilty of assault and is lible for any injury the students get after the teacher gets physical.

Here is what happened in my county many years ago that we still follow the case law to this day: Two big males were fighting. The male history teacher grabs one from behind to pull him off the other big male. The other big male, now free and unrestrained, nailed the restrained big male dead on in the face breaking his jaw.

The system passed around the deposition for all teachers to read. It went like this:

Plaintiff Lawyer (PL): What physical requirements did the school system have for you to be hired?

Mr. History (MH): None that I am aware of.

PL: How much training has your system given you on how to break up fights?

MH: None at all.

PL: Who in your chain of authority has ever given you orders to physically intervien in a fight?

MH: No one, specifically. It was just something I thought I was expected to do.

Can you guess how the suit went? Never went to trial. The teacher’s insurance and the school system paid up. They system them sent out detailed instructions on how teachers were to behave during a fight. Yell loudly at the students to stop. Call the office for security. Continue to monitor (yes, they said monitor) the fight and repeat your calls to stop fighting. When the students break up, isolate the most cooperative student. DO NOT TOUCH THE STUDENTS!

You are taking your professional and financial health in you hands if you touch those students. The professional insurance for teachers in my county has informed that they will not represent or pay for a teacher who has touched a student to break up a fight if that student sues the teacher. We are on our own for all legal bills and judgements.

At 5/31/06, 6:45 PM, Blogger Laura(southernxyl) said...

Miller, if my daughter had been assaulted in school and her teachers stood by and let it happen, there would have been a different kind of lawsuit.

I think the teacher should have been able to say that the kids were in his care and he did what he had to do to try to ensure their safety. If the insurance company was scared to let that go to trial, fine, but that doesn't mean the teachers ought to have their hands tied.

At 5/31/06, 7:12 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

My school district has given us training in how to break up fights. Three times in the last 10 years. We have very few fights, however-- especially compared to some places that do not allow anyone to break up fights. I wonder if there is a correlation....

I have been told that we do not have to break up fights, but that I will be backed up if I do.

I do not intervene unless there is a chance to keep EVERYONE from getting hurt further.

Everything is on video cameras at our school-- very little chance to "spin" it except that the kids fighting are behaving like animals, and the teachers are trying to restore order and safety using as little force as necessary. And teachers loudly demanding that the fight cease must be the first thing before physical contact.

At 5/31/06, 9:31 PM, Blogger Laura(southernxyl) said...

"I wonder if there is a correlation...."

I don't wonder. I'm sure there is.

At 6/2/06, 10:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Luara,

I understand your position on why you would want to nail a teacher for not protecting your child. The problem is that the school system hires teachers incapable of protecting themselves from an attack by a student…like me (MS). One would wonder if the school system was liable for wrongful hire in such a case as me if a student were badly injured in a fight while I waited for security to come and break up the fight.

The insurance companies are not settling without going to court in these cases. The insurance companies are refusing to defend the teacher and refusing to provide payouts. The school system is refusing to indemnify teachers who touch students involved in a fight. In other words, you touch a child in a fight and that child is injured the teacher’s personal income and property is subject to judgment.

The case law in my state (Maryland) has made it clear that the school system and teachers are not responsible for injuries to a student caused by a fight with another student. Parents are turned away by attorneys who refuse to even file a civil action. Parents who have filed on their own have their cases dismisses with prejudice and discovering that they have to pay the court costs of the school system.

Think about this issue another way. To protect your child in my classroom you will have to have a teacher who was hired on the basis of not only being certified in the subject, but also physically fit, trained in stopping hostile acts, and armed (taser, batons, ???) as well to handle two or more hostiles while being the only adult in the classroom. Maybe we need to do this?

I had the displeasure of having two very mean boys land on top of me while they were having a very nasty brutal fight in the hallway outside my classroom. I couldn’t get out of the way (MS) fast enough while calling for security. One broke his wrist and the other his collar bone. I received a skull fracture and damaged an eye when I went down. I sued. The parents were locked out of court by the law. They sued each other. I collected $150,000 from their homeowners.

If you really want the school to protect your children, then we cannot hire just anyone and must provide tools and training to the guard/teachers we would need to have.

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