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"The classroom is a battlefield." A teacher on why she's being trained to physically restrain her students.

School is back for term two, and I spent a full day training in MAPA before the students came back today.

MAPA stands for Management of Actual and Potential Aggression. It is described a course with a “focus on prevention” which “teaches management and intervention techniques to help [teachers] cope with escalating behaviour in a professional and safe manner”.

Now, I am no expert. I certainly do not hold a long list of credentials that I can rattle off. What I do have, however, is expert knowledge on what it’s like to actually be on the front line of teaching every day. And yes, that is a war reference because after this training I can only describe the classroom as a battlefield.

To break it down, this training looks at diffusing quickly escalating situations and to resort to ‘disengagements’ and ‘holds’ to safely restrain a student if necessary. Basically, it trains us on the professional way to use physical force if necessary. But we have to use the politically correct terminology of ‘disengagements’ and ‘holds’. I am tired of not calling it what it is.

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I will make it very clear that to engage in a hold is the absolute last resort where a teacher has exhausted all other options and the student is a serious danger to themselves and others. This was emphasised continuously throughout the course. In my personal teaching journey of eight years, I have thankfully never had to engage in a hold. I have evacuated a classroom and placed the school into lockdown, but I have never had to use physical force (hoping I never will either!).

Another part that consistently came up during training was that the hold had to be acceptable. The word “acceptable” was thrown around often. Put simply, acceptable enough that if a person walked by or you were being filmed, the force used could only be perceived as fair and necessary. I sat there fuming on the inside. It all comes down to being able to document and justify your decision making. Covering your own backside so justification can be given to parents and the Department so you don’t lose your job. Does anyone wonder how much this affects teachers? Always having to watch our backs, second guess ourselves, cop physical abuse ourselves from students but still be concerned about the very real prospect of losing our job?

Throughout the training, we looked at how to deal with strikes such as hitting and kicking and holds including strangling, biting and hair pulling. We are being trained in restraining students. Can’t say I learnt that one during my four-year degree at university. Can’t say I was prepared for this or ever agreed to it being a part of my career. But we all just sat there, writing notes, getting it done. So desensitised to the garbage we endure as teachers.

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This training is making teachers numb to these issues. We mindlessly follow training with teachers too scared to openly express their concerns that this is where our education system has ended up. This isn’t normal! I fear for the fresh new teachers who have no choice but to accept this is the way it is now. As if this is the answer to everything.

I listened to a fantastic podcast the other day called Mindvalley. Specifically, the episode Billionaire Naveen Jain on How To Dream So Big You Can’t Help But Change the World. Although Naveen is not a teacher, he said something so profound that it stuck with me and is transferable to this post. He is currently spending millions of dollars trying to discover a cure for all illness. So rather than developing cures for individual diseases like cancer, dementia, diabetes etc, he has identified gut health as playing a key role in preventing these diseases in the first place. He recognised how big this dream was, unachievable most would say, but that isn’t going to stop him.

He discussed dealing with the roots of the problem rather than the symptoms of it. How true this is for teaching. Instead of dealing with the symptoms of problems (which this training does), let’s attack the roots once and for all. Why are these students behaving this way? What is the root cause of the choices they are making? Is more emotional support required? I am not claiming to know the answer because the answer is so complex but I would much rather be trained in the Department’s new initiatives to truly support these students instead of throwing them into mainstream schools and expecting already stressed and underdeveloped staff to always maintain ‘acceptable’ behaviour so they don’t get caught on film.

Listen: The case of parent-teacher bullying that’s ripped apart a school.

I came home last night even more disillusioned and beat down by the system. I messaged an old teacher friend expressing my sadness that I had spent a whole day learning these skills. Even more scary is the robot nature we, as teachers, consume this training without questioning it. This cannot be considered normal. I don’t blame teachers though. There was no way I was the only teacher feeling this way. I am sure there were others too afraid of saying something as well. But this is not normal. Not even close.

Rewind to 60 Minutes on Sunday night and the segment titled ‘Class Warfare’. Again with the war references because seriously this is how bad it’s all becoming.

One in two principals are threatened with violence in their careers by parents. It got me thinking that this MAPA training would one day be used on a parent rather than students. In what context does it get classed as self-defence because this is the rocky road we are travelling down at the moment.

60 Minutes interviewed a West Australian parent who claimed his son’s school did not appropriately support him. A direct quote from this father – the man responsible for teaching respect and morals to his son- “Violence-that’s where nobody wants to come to that but some people get that annoyed that’s what’s gonna be the next step isn’t it? If nobody’s gonna listen to you what’s gonna happen, you’re gonna start getting grumpy and what happens when you get grumpy?”

Seriously! What chance do teachers have getting respect from this student if he is being fed this aggression every day? You are the adult. You are the role model. You can’t always like what happens in life but getting ‘grumpy’ and then ‘violent’ is an issue you need to deal with, not me. Teachers constantly stress about being professionals and worry about their actions being misconstrued. So much teacher anxiety revolves around the questions ‘Have I remained professional?’, ‘How would this look if it was being filmed?’, ‘Am I going to get into trouble for this?’, and ‘Will I end up losing my job?’.

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But this parent is simply allowed to be ‘grumpy and violent’ with no consequences for their actions? Give me a break! I don’t believe for a second that he doesn’t know he’s in the wrong. At one point you overhear his son say ‘oh some teachers tried to help’ and his dad brushed off that comment. You can’t go around processing only the facts you feel like or want to hear. Everything has context and I can guarantee like all schools, this school made multiple and varied attempts to ensure this student was engaged in learning. They would have made accommodations, implemented an individual plan, involved the student in making him feel valued. All of this was overlooked and not good enough for this parent who felt ‘grumpy’. Cry me a river.

Another parent sent 66 separate emails in a term outlining his grievances (a term lasts 10 weeks on average which equates to 6.6 emails a week). Imagine if all parents did that? What time would the principal have for actually leading a progressive 21st century school? Wouldn’t this parent find it more effective for his children if this principal was left alone to lead the school efficiently rather than responding to his 66 emails? Would that not be more beneficial for his child’s development? Since that is, after all, the underlying priority for this father? Seems to me he prioritises his own importance over his child. No surprises there because of how common this is.

As I have previously written, it feels as though teachers are meant to be robots and can’t get ‘grumpy’ too.

Teachers and principals are constantly under fire. I wonder what that father would feel like if a teacher became ‘grumpy’ with him. It’s just ridiculous what the education system has come to. I’m sick of sitting back, nodding my head and buying into this ‘prevention not cure’ method. We wouldn’t need all this training if we properly started looking at the root causes of all this. I want to be like Naveen Jain and my blog is a little way of dreaming big. I cannot sit back any longer.

I’m not a robot, I’m a human being. Teaching is the only profession where that concept seems to have been completely missed. We have to see everything, never make a mistake, constantly walk on eggshells and get crucified the second we make even the slightest error in judgement. I don’t want to learn how to ‘disengage’ and ‘hold’ students similar to training police officers undertake. A full day course that should have been better spent learning quality teaching practices to better serve our students. Not a modified form of self defence. That’s not my job. I never signed up for this. Period.

If we don’t start attacking the roots, we won’t have any teachers left.

For more on teaching in Australia, or to share your own teaching stories, visit The Musing blog. 

Are you a teacher in Australia? Where do you stand on the issue? Tell us in the comments! 

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