While it is rare for students to hit their teachers, there are incidents of student-on-teacher violence in the United States of America and across the globe. Therefore, how should a teacher respond and what are the consequences of a student hitting a teacher?
Students that hit their teachers may be subject to zero-tolerance policies like suspension, expulsions, or criminal prosecution. However, most schools prefer using restorative justice techniques like break rooms, peer courts, stripping titles, or parent-teacher consultations.
To better understand why there are multiple approaches to dealing with students that hit teachers, we will be exploring each policy and the methodology behind each approach in greater detail below.
What Are The Consequences Of Hitting A Teacher?
While laws vary from state to state, it is possible that children below the age of majority (18) can be found guilty of simple assault.
Simple assault is defined as a juvenile:
- Causing injury to another person,
- Attempting to cause injury to another person,
- Threatening another person with injury, or
- Placing a person in a situation where they believe imminent harm is probable.
Consequently, while a child hitting a teacher may amount to simple assault in most states, other states may have looser definitions, resulting in a finding of simple assault for merely threatening a teacher with bodily harm.
Therefore, the severity of the assault in question is secondary to the existence of an actual assault and the level of fear generated by a legitimate threat. For example, a teenager threatening a teacher with a firearm would constitute a more serious threat compared to a kindergarten student threatening a teacher with their fist.
Generally speaking, children that commit an offense are treated as juveniles within the juvenile justice system, whereby the sentencing for simple assault in juvenile court can range as follows:
- Jail time,
- Community service,
- Restitution for harm caused to the victim,
- Anger management classes,
- Substance abuse treatment,
However, while most children are judged and sentenced within the juvenile justice system, there may be instances where children are tried as adults. The trying of children as adults happen on the rare occasion that the prosecutor believes:
- The offense is of a serious enough nature to warrant the escalation of the matter to the criminal justice system,
- The accused is over sixteen years of age and exhibits the necessary capacity to be tried in the criminal justice system and/or
- The accused has a previous criminal offense conviction.
Despite the option and possibility of a child being tried as an adult, it is extremely unlikely that a misdemeanor such as simple assault would warrant such an escalation.
How Do Schools Deal With A Child That Hit Their Teacher?
Despite the option of prosecution, schools and teachers seldom utilize the juvenile justice system or the assistance of the police in instances where a child hits a teacher.
The reason is that these “traditional” bodies are often ill-equipped to rehabilitate young offenders while also causing more harm to the well-being and psyche of a child by branding them as felons.
Restorative practice is a methodology that has seen increased support and positive results across schools in America.
Restorative practice rejects “zero-tolerance” policies that promote expulsion or prosecutors for aggressive children in favor of inspiring children to take responsibility for their actions to “work toward righting a wrongful act.”
Consequently, restorative practice uses methodology and techniques such as:
- Consulting with the children’s parents to determine an appropriate punishment,
- The stripping of titles such as class president or team captain,
- The establishment of break rooms to take a break and de-escalate internal conflicts,
- Meetings and sessions with trained professionals such as child psychologists or anger management experts,
- Peer courts,
- Improving teacher-student communication through empathetic conversations.
Suppose restorative justice doesn’t work, such as a child not fulfilling their punishment as determined by a court of their peers (e.g., performing community service and attending anger management classes). In that case, zero-tolerance policies like suspension and expulsion can be implemented.
Researchers and experts support the implementation of restorative practice and legislation when dealing with aggressive and disruptive children, as it seeks to address the cause of the problem rather than treating the symptom.
Furthermore, suspension, expulsion, and prosecution may exacerbate behavioral issues. Children may be placed in unfavorable environments during their absence from school while reducing their chances of improving their relationships with students and teachers.
Regardless of the methodology and code of conduct used by a school to disciple aggressive children, school governing bodies and teachers must have policies to enforce rules and systems of punishment that are reliable and consistent!
What Should A Teacher Do If A Student Hits Them?
Teachers, schools, students, and governing bodies should have clear policies in place to avoid further escalation and harm in the event of a teacher hitting a student:
1. Crisis Prevention Methodology
While it may be daunting and scary for a teacher to be hit by a student, they must remain calm to not create more conflict and escalate the assault.
Therefore, other students, teachers, and school staff should have policies to de-escalate conflict, remove themselves from harm, and know how to contact the relevant school administrators to quickly and safely resolve the issues.
A recognizable and reputable resource is the Crisis Prevention Institute which offers training, courses, and techniques for de-escalating and managing aggressive students in volatile situations.
Schools and staff members are encouraged to undergo professional training from the Crisis Prevention Institute or similar professional institutions.
Fortunately, outside of professional training sessions, the Crisis Prevention Institute has many free resources, such as its numerous videos on de-escalation and self-regulation for students and teachers.
2. Accurately Record The Violent Event
While it may be difficult to record the event while it is happening, teachers should take the necessary time to record their understanding of what led to the assault, the nature of the assault itself, and the steps taken to reduce further harm after the assault.
It is advisable to take notes on an electronic device and save it to cloud storage. Supporting evidence such as video footage, voice recordings, or photographs should also be uploaded to cloud software for safekeeping.
3. Inform The Necessary School Staff And Professional Bodies
Once the assault has occurred, a teacher must inform the school administration, fellow staff members, teachers union, and (if necessary) the police or external professional bodies such as social workers.
The purpose of informing these people and bodies is to ensure the well-being of the teacher, fellow staff members, and students, and to plan an effective course of action in dealing with the behavior of the accused.
While hitting a teacher is a serious offense, there are multiple ways for teachers, schools, and professionals to address the root cause of the problem by utilizing holistic and empathetic variations of restorative practice.
- CPI Training Helps Teachers and Students Improve Self-Regulation: YouTube
- 6 Tips for Skillfully Managing Extreme Student Behaviors: Hey Teach
- When Students Assault Teachers, Effects Can Be Lasting: Education Week
- ‘Restorative Practices’: Discipline But Different: Education Week
- Juvenile Simple Assault: Criminal Defense Lawyer
- Too Many Teachers Are Getting Hit, Kicked, and Punched by Students: We Are Teachers