Violence against teachers spurs urgent call to action

January 7, 2013, American Psychological Association

Teachers across the United States report alarmingly high rates of personally experiencing student violence and harassment while at school, according to an article published by the American Psychological Association that presents comprehensive recommendations to make schools safer for school personnel as well as students.

"Understanding and Preventing Violence Directed Against : Recommendations for a National Research, Practice, and Policy Agenda," was published online Jan. 7 in the APA's flagship journal, .

"Violence directed against teachers is a national crisis with far-reaching implications and deserves inclusion in the equation," said the article's lead author, Dorothy Espelage, PhD, of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "We are proposing that any comprehensive examination of violence must consider the complex dynamics that affect teachers and other school personnel as well as students, parents and the entire community." Espelage was chair of APA's Task Force on Classroom Violence Directed Against Teachers, which issued a report in 2011.

Educators' perceived threats and experiencing violence at school are important components of a problem that has received surprisingly limited attention, the article states. To date, only 14 published studies have examined violence directed at teachers in schools, according to the authors. Five of the studies involved a total of 3,627 teachers in the United States and nine were conducted internationally with 9,720 teachers.

The APA task force conducted one of the national studies, which found that 80 percent of the teachers surveyed reported being victimized at school at least once in the then-current or prior year. Of those, 94 percent said they had been victimized by students—44 percent reported being physically attacked and 72 percent reported harassment, while 50 percent said they experienced theft or property damage at school. The findings were based on survey responses from almost 3,000 K-12 teachers in 48 states.

The article provides detailed recommendations aimed at preventing violence against teachers, including the creation of a national registry maintained by the U.S. Department of Education to track such incidents. While local and state school agencies keep general records of violent acts at schools, a national agency with the authority to require reporting is necessary to estimate the magnitude of the problem more accurately and develop targeted prevention, according to the article. The authors recommend avoiding collection of students' or teachers' names to encourage accurate reporting, to maintain individual privacy and so that the registry can be made available to the public and researchers.

The article also suggests implementing state-by-state consistency in licensure requirements so that all educators are required to master classroom management training before they are licensed to teach.

"Because professional training typically does not prepare teachers to deal with violence at school, most lack the skills to prevent challenging behavior from occurring and to respond effectively when it does occur. As such, many teachers have been shocked by frequent violent occurrences in our nation's schools during recent years and the far-reaching implications of violence," Espelage said.

To address student behavior that can lead to violence against teachers, the recommendations include methods tailored to individual students, focusing on reasons why problem behaviors occur rather than on ways to stop the behavior once it happens.

Psychologists can promote collaboration among community-based organizations, such as after-school programs, social service agencies and neighborhood associations, to create more integrated efforts that provide prevention, early identification, intervention and treatment for a wide range of behavioral and academic problems among youth, the article states.

"Professional psychologists can play a critical role in helping prevent against teachers, which in turn can make school a safer place for all concerned," Espelage said. "This is a significant yet under-investigated problem in the United States that has profound implications for schooling, teacher retention and over all student performance."

Explore further: Strong relationships make students, teachers feel safer in schools

More information: "Understanding and Preventing Violence Directed Against Teachers: Recommendations for a National Research, Practice, and Policy Agenda," American Psychologist, online Jan. 7

Related Stories

Preventing School Violence Needs to Start at Young Age

March 17, 2008

By the time a child enters third grade, it may be too late to change behavioral issues that could lead to more serious problems later in life, including violent and aggressive behavior. A University of Missouri professor ...

Youth violence declining in UK

December 4, 2012

Physical violence among young people is on the decline overall in nearly thirty countries including the UK, according to a new international study involving researchers from the University of Hertfordshire.

Relationships Improve Student Success

June 29, 2009

( -- When students are underachieving, school policymakers often examine class size, curriculum and funding, but University of Missouri researchers suggest establishing relationships may be a powerful and less ...

Recommended for you

Crowds within crowd found to outperform 'wisdom of the crowd'

January 18, 2018

A team of researchers affiliated with institutions in Argentina, the U.S. and Germany has found that there is a way to improve on the "wisdom of the crowd"—separate the people in a given crowd into smaller groups and let ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

2 / 5 (4) Jan 07, 2013
Wait a sec..... If teachers aren't safe, then why are we sending our kids to schools in which teachers can't control the class?

They need a study to find out how many students/parents feel they have been harassed, bullied, and victimized by teachers.

3.7 / 5 (6) Jan 07, 2013
This is what two generations of not disciplining children at school gets you. No respect for authority, no punishment for offenders = best recipe for juvenile delinquency. You have built a great future for yourself, these violent kids will grow up to be interesting citizens... NOT!
3 / 5 (2) Jan 08, 2013
Guns are the answer. What could possibly go wrong if we arm teachers with lethal force? When do our youth ever consider putting themselves into harms way? Children, as everybody knows are completely rational and would understand the consequences of antagonizing an opponent capable of defending themselves with a gun.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.