A zero-tolerance approach to violence worked in New York, so why not in schools?

9th December 2011 at 00:00
Teachers should not bear the physical or emotional scars caused by abusive behaviour

I never fail to admire teachers. My uncle Rab was one (until he retired to the golf course) and he is a marvellous man who has given his life to the cultural improvement of the masses by teaching art at some of the toughest, roughest, but most rewarding schools in Edinburgh.

Seeing many of his pupils go on to art college was a particular thrill for him and when Edinburgh Council exhibited their collected works from over the years, his sense of pride at their achievement outshone the moon.

I know many others of similar dedication and I know many young people who are, bravely, entering the profession - not for the pay, not for the holidays, not even for the pension, but for the idea, that marvellous idea, of trying to pass on to future generations not just knowledge, but their experiences that might make us all richer in spirit as a community.

So why is it that we do not give teachers the protection they should be entitled to in the classroom? Why do we continue to accept the ridiculously high levels of violence that they have to put up with as if it's a given? Why does the public give a collective shrug of the shoulders as if to say it goes with the territory, teachers knew what they were getting into when they signed up and should learn to live with it?

I for one don't accept it. If Rudy Giuliani could use zero-tolerance to reduce crime in New York to a level that is lower than other smaller cities, then why do we not employ zero-tolerance of violence in the classroom to show that being fair and good is rewarded and being snidey and evil is punished? What's stopping us?

Teachers bare the scars - physical ones from kicks and scratches - and emotional scars from tirades of abuse and threatening behaviour. And pupils, especially weaker ones, go on to suffer from the same unruly bullies who learn how to get away with their violent behaviour.

Let's not pretend that this same violent minority, if let off with it, suddenly become saints when they leave school. They are prime candidates to use violence for the rest of their lives - whether it's to beat up their partners in the home or assault someone in a bar or the street. They need to learn that violence is abhorred in Scotland.

Any violence in the classroom should result in immediate expulsion and the right of the teacher to refuse to teach that child in the future. So long as care is taken with the offender to show there is a way back through acceptable behaviour, what is wrong with sending the message that violence will just not be allowed?

If the violence comes from a rogue teacher, that too should be dealt with in a similarly robust manner. Not that I need to state that - we all know the authorities would throw the book at an offending teacher. But a pupil?

Until we address this issue head-on and give teachers a violence-free classroom, we can never expect our communities to be all peace and tranquillity.

Brian Monteith, Political commentor.

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