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Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Germany: When teachers are targeted – school violence

In many schools, violence against teachers is unfortunately a common phenomenon, but often a taboo subject. Why violence happens and how to deal with it. In the past ten years, the number of crimes against teachers across the country has exceeded 1,600, according to crime statistics. The situation is “critical”, says Gerhard Brand, Federal President of the Association for Education and Training (VBE).

Last fall, the Association for Education and Training (VBE) investigated the subject of violence against teachers, with a nationwide survey. In the study, 32% of principals spoke of physical assaults on teachers that had taken place in their schools in the past five years.

Violence in all types of schools

The fact that psychological and physical violence occurs in all types of schools is evidenced by a study carried out in autumn 2022 by the University of Giessen in Hesse, commissioned by the Association of Civil Servants and the Collective Trade Union (dbb ). His results have already been published.

For example, 56% of primary school teachers surveyed, 52% of lower secondary and general education teachers, and 26% of gymnasium teachers said they had been the victim of insults or violence in the last twelve months ( before the survey).

Employee protection needs attention

The leader of the VBE criticizes the “veil of silence” which covers the question. Teachers are hesitant to talk about it, and if they do, it’s mostly with trusted colleagues, Brand says.

“It is clear that the highest authorities are suppressing the current situation, instead of resolutely confronting the growing violence against teachers and prioritizing the protection of employees,” underlined Gerhard Brand, president of the Association of the ‘education.

Officials dealing with the problem often face reputational loss because the violence seems to only happen there, Brand says. But it is a “common problem”.

Children’s social environment

Violence researcher Andreas Zick of the University of Bielefeld also thinks it’s understandable not to notice or name violence for potential damage to the school’s image, “although it’s just a part of the problem”.

According to Zeke, the tendency to violence, formed under the influence of the social environment of students, is one of the reasons why aggressive children come to school. “They share images of hate, class prejudice, home apologies for disrespectful behavior, derogatory images of teachers created by others,” says Zeke.

For the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Culture of the Länder of the Federal Republic of Germany (KMK), the solution of this problem is also a “task of the whole of society”. Violence in everyday school life can only be prevented “by good teaching in schools or by expanding school psychology services”, a ZDFheute spokesperson explained.

Has the pandemic led to an increase in violence?

It is also legitimate to say that the coronavirus has contributed to the development of this problem. Many young people may feel “that school and society don’t care about what they feel, think and do,” says Zeke. This figure is up six percentage points from the previous survey in 2018; at the start of 2020, it was two percentage points.

The aforementioned VBE survey shows that the problem of violence is partly domestic. While physical violence against teachers in 2022 was increasingly perpetrated by students, in the case of psychological violence, parents tend to be blamed.

“Despite the public debate about the existing problem affecting everyday life in schools, society has no desire to generate facts and investigate this topic thoroughly,” says violence researcher Andreas Zick at the University of Bielefeld.

To date, there are no long-term studies or systematic surveys that examine all aspects of abuse – both physical and psychological, but only individual case reports.

VBE needs more support for teachers

According to the VBE statement, “acts of violence against teachers must be documented and remain anonymous in publicly available statistics”.

In addition, teachers affected by school violence need ‘independent’ points of contact for legal and psychological support to deal with the experience of violence.

How can it be avoided?

In order to combat violence against teachers, Gerhard Brand calls for an increase in the number of school psychologists or social pedagogues in educational establishments. Teachers need to impart knowledge and prepare children for the future, “but they can’t shoulder all the burdens,” says Brand.

On the other hand, it is necessary to set up “multi-professional teams” in schools, which until now have been rare. They could help students deal with their anxieties and needs, which would help prevent aggression before it even happens.

“Violence must be fought before it happens. Then it’s much harder to fix it,” notes Gerhard Brand, president of the Education Association.

A lot of work needs to be done

Andreas Zick calls for the creation of “more advice centers for teachers” and students, among whom there are also victims. A “comprehensive survey and inventory of all forms of violence” is needed, along with more training on tackling violence and upgrading the skills of teachers so they can better reduce the severity of the situation.

Gerhard Brand still believes that more ‘stigma work’ needs to be done so that teachers can talk openly about their experience of violence and thus contribute to a solution to the problem.

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