Teachers launch anti-violence campaign

“We’ve had a padlock thrown at a teacher’s head. We’ve had ­kicking, punching, spitting in the face.”

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The Nunavut Teachers Association launched a campaign this week, called “Make Learning Safe,” to draw attention to violence inside Nunavut’s schools.

Posters and bookmarks are being distributed across Nunavut that feature a graphic of an apple – representing teachers – wrapped in bandages.

Teachers in Nunavut routinely face verbal abuse, and sometimes physical violence, from students. And this violence has escalated in recent years, warns the NTA, which represents 650 teachers across the territory.

Jimmy Jacquard, president of the NTA, stresses that “about 90 per cent” of students are well-behaved and “fantastic.” But a small minority makes teachers fear for their safety.

“We’ve had a padlock thrown at a teacher’s head. It missed,” Jacquard said on Tuesday. “We’ve had kicking, punching, spitting in the face.

“We’ve had a rock that a student threw through a classroom window.”

Then there’s verbal abuse. One student, about 15 years old, told a Nunavut teacher this year he would kill her family and burn her house down, Jacquard said.

The union received 68 abuse reports from teachers between September 2006 and December 2006. Half of those reports involved physical violence directed at teachers.

But that doesn’t capture the true amount of violence in schools, Jacquard says, because teachers are often reluctant to make such reports, for fear that “it would reflect badly on them” as teachers who lost control of their class.

Teachers who have worked in the North for many years often become resigned to dealing with violence as part of their jobs, Jacquard said.

“It’s become a part of being a teacher,” he said.

He says that shouldn’t be the case.

To address this, last September, union staff encouraged teachers to file abuse reports, and assured them that their identities would remain confidential.

This is the first year the NTA has begun to gather statistics on violence faced by teachers.

Jacquard won’t discuss the specifics of some cases, to protect the identities of injured teachers, but says he most recently received two reports of teachers attacked by students last week.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that a territory that leads the country in domestic abuse and sexual assaults, also finds more problems in the classroom than elsewhere.

A study conducted by the Canadian Teachers Federation in October 2005 found that educators working in the North are more likely to be physically assaulted or verbally abused, by students or parents, than teachers elsewhere in Canada.

Most students in Nunavut who act out face problems at home, Jacquard said. And he says the territory’s schools are poorly equipped to deal with these students.

“There isn’t enough extra help on the best of days, for kids who really need extra help,” Jacquard said.

“We need a hell of a lot more resources,” he said.

A good start would be to hire more properly-trained counsellors, Jacquard said, to provide more anger management courses.

As well, students who act out often respond well to land trips with elders, but schools don’t have enough money to offer many of these trips, Jacquard said.

In some cases, Nunavut’s schools don’t even have a room to send misbehaving students who have been suspended for the day.

In Iqaluit, a dozen high school teachers attended a district education authority meeting in December to describe injuries they received from students, in some cases sending teachers to hospital.

The teachers spoke to express their opinions on DEA’s draft discipline policy, which is based on the philosophy that suspensions don’t work when dealing with “at risk” kids.

Teachers said they felt the document could protect bullies.

Both teachers and DEA members agree suspensions aren’t the solution, Jacquard said. But he says schools will first need more resources, such as additional counselling for kids at risk, for measures supported by the IDEA to work.

Jacquard says he hopes the new campaign will start discussions among parents, elders, and DEAs about student misbehavior.

He points out that violence in schools deters graduates from becoming teachers, and “we desperately need more Inuit teachers.”

One case in Nunavik two years ago offers a reminder of what can happen when control is lost inside schools.

In February 2004, an 18-year-old man in Salluit shot his 43-year-old teacher in the neck with a rifle, before shooting himself. He had been expelled from an adult education class for a previous assault on another student.

Jacquard said he hopes violence inside Nunavut’s schools can be curbed, rather than escalate further, as it did in Salluit.
“It’s certainly something that’s out there.”

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