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Shootings fail to deter recruits

Rather than being put off by the Columbine killings, many American trainees say they have been 'inspired' to go into schools and change pupils' lives. Julie Henry reports

The Columbine shootings - which left 14 pupils and one teacher dead - had a positive impact on trainees' desire to teach, new research has revealed.

Far from putting recruits off, as might be expected, a survey of would-be teachers in the same state as Columbine high found that more than half said their desire to enter the profession had been strengthened by school violence. Nearly a quarter said they had been "inspired" by it.

The students felt this way despite considering themselves ill-prepared to prevent and respond to outbreaks of violence in the classroom.

The study, presented to the American Educational Research Association conference in Seattle last week, involved a survey of more than 500 students enrolled at the Colorado State University teacher programme in spring 1999, just months after the massacre took place. Follow-up focus groups of students at different stages in the programme were then held.

Researchers found that school violence was as likely to have a positive impact on trainees who had just started the programme as on students who had invested more time and money in becoming a teacher.

Rebecca Gajda, of the Research and Development Centre for the Advancement of Student Learning, who carried out the study, said: "We were surprised by the findings which showed that the potential for school violence re-confirms a pre-service teacher's commitment to becoming a educator.

"The finding is important given that the demand for new teachers is growing. Those choosing to become a teacher in the wake of school violence strongly expressed their desire to make a difference to the lives of young people."

Today is the second anniversary of the Columbine massacre, the most horrific incident in a spate of highly-publicised shootings in American schools. The increase in deaths caused by juvenile crime and the recognition that school violence in not just an urban problem, has made safety in schools a national imperative in the US.

According to Keith Geiger, president of the teachers' union, the National Education Association, every hour of every day 40 teachers are physically attacked on school property. Moreover, one in 20 high school students has not attended school on at least one occasion out of fear over personal safety.

The trainees interviewed believed that their prime role in helping to prevent violence was to foster "meaningful relationships" with students. A majority said the topic of school violence should be explicitly addressed in teacher training. Trainees wanted more contact with high-risk students and veteran teachers. They also asked for a check-list of the warning signs that may indicate imminent violence.

Ms. Gajda said: "Pre-sevice teachers, and ultimately our nation's students, would benefit from the integration of violence prevention and response techniques into teacher preparation programmes."

"Becoming a teacher in the wake of school violence" by Rebecca

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