VANCOUVER Canada July 12 2018 — Nine out of 10 British Columbia school teachers say they have been the target of violence or bullying, according to a survey by the BC Teachers’ Federation, and the union’s president is concerned the incidents are under-reported.
Data from BCTF’s survey, released exclusively to StarMetro, shows that of those who experienced bullying or violence, 92 per cent said they felt stress, frustration or anxiety, and 78 per cent also reported sleep disturbances, headaches and fatigue.
The total number of teachers surveyed was not available at the time of publication. The full research results are expected to be released by BCTF in the fall.
For Glen Hansman, president of the BCTF, the findings are troubling. Violence shouldn’t be part of the job, he said.
“No one should have to wake up in the morning, shower and get dressed, and go to school as a worker and expect to have to tolerate being punched or spat at or subjected to demeaning and bullying behaviour,” Hansman said.
National data, released July 9 by the Canadian Teachers’ Federation, showed teachers feel the number of violent incidents are increasing nationwide, and that many incidents go unreported through official channels. In B.C. for example, the reporting rate was only 58 per cent.
The CTF says their research shows that the violence against teachers is linked to the widespread underfunding of schools, a lack of resources to address violence against teachers, and “serious inadequacies” in support for students with special needs.
When a kid’s social and emotional needs aren’t met, they may be prone to violent outbursts, said Mark Ramsankar, president of the CTF.
The research for B.C. shows the physical violence is highest in elementary schools and middle schools, whereas bullying against teachers is more common in high schools.
Young kids, Ramsankar said, “don’t have the coping mechanisms.”
In B.C., the incidents of violence against female teachers was higher and the kids perpetrating the violence were disproportionately male and carried a history of violence and bullying.
According to the BCTF’s data, the teaching profession in B.C. has the second-highest rate of on-the-job violence in the province, with health care workers ranking in as the highest.
That more isn’t being done to prevent the violence could be due to gender, Hansman said.
“It shouldn’t be lost on us in both health and K-12 the workforce is predominantly women and perhaps there’s a gendered reason why complaints aren’t being taken seriously, or the preventative stuff that ought to be happening isn’t being done, and this is consistent across Canada,” he said.
“In addition to complaints not being taken seriously, our members are being dissuaded from officially filing complaints,” Hansman said. Of those surveyed, he said only a “small percentage” reported their complaints had been dealt with according to the school’s violence or bullying policy.
Education Minister Rob Fleming would not provide an interview but in a statement the B.C. Ministry of Education said the safety of teaching and support staff is a priority, and safety plans are required in schools where teachers and support staff are dealing with children with extreme behavioural problems.
According to Hansman, the under-reporting could also be because educators are downplaying their experiences due to a widespread cultural attitude that kids acting out in violent ways is something that teachers should expect.
This, in a profession that reports a high rate of “struck by object” workplace injury claims in all B.C. industries, he said.
“Why would so many people in K-12 report that they’ve been struck by an object? It suggests that there’s a lot of violence, against not just teachers but other K-12 workers, that’s hidden,” he said.
In its statement, the ministry wrote that WorkSafe BC partners with groups in the education sector to “provide information and resources pertaining to violence prevention and workplace safety for teachers and support staff in schools.”
Both the CTF and BCTF are calling on governments to address the issue.
“We have to do something about this,” Hansman said. “Clearly it’s happening at a surprising level in schools across Canada.”