Many teachers no longer feel safe. Here’s what they want from their district leaders

One district found teachers preferred smaller class sizes and expanded mental health services were preferred solutions over SROs and metal detectors.

Teacher safety may not be watched as closely as students’ sense of well-being, but most administrators are coming to realize another hard truth: Many educators do not feel completely comfortable in their classrooms these days. Whether it’s because of deteriorating student behavior or regularly occurring mass shootings, teachers and their advocates are speaking out about how to make their workplace more secure.

In Denver Public Schools, a draft of a new safety plan and a string of “recent tragedies” incidents drew a vigorous and detailed response from the district’s teacher’s union. A member survey found that smaller class sizes and mental health services were far higher than SROs and metal detectors on the Denver Classroom Teacher Association’s list of steps it would take to make educators feel safe.

For example, more than 70% of the teachers want class sizes reduced but only about a quarter said metal detectors would help. “Educators believe that smaller class sizes and caseloads are the most important factor in creating a safe school environment,” the union said. “By reducing class sizes, educators can establish strong connections with students and foster a welcoming and supportive learning environment. ”

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A significant number of Denver’s teachers warned that students were receiving “less than half” of the mental health support they need from the district. They also want more training on restorative discipline and de-escalation techniques.

“A significant number of educators reported that they are not receiving adequate information on student support needs, including the process of collecting data, determining when to involve parents, and creating behavior or support plans,” the union said.

Teacher safety solutions vary

In Minnesota’s Twin Cities, a majority of high school teachers said they felt unsafe or very unsafe in Saint Paul Public Schools, according to a district survey. Weapons and student-on-student or student-on-staff violence were the biggest concerns of teachers at all levels. Overall, 56% of teachers said they felt safe in the state’s second-largest district.

Some other troubling findings from St. Paul include:

  • Most staff have witnessed or experienced physical violence.
  • The majority of staff did not feel equipped to deal with the situation when they witnessed or experienced physical violence.
  • Many staff have been involved in multiple incidents, sometimes with the same student(s).
  • Most staff were not satisfied with the outcome after an incident of physical violence and did not feel supported by building administrators.
  • Staff often felt helpless to prevent, improve or resolve the situation.

But teachers in Saint Paul demanded different solutions than did their colleagues in Denver. Stricter punishment for student misbehavior and SROs were at the top of the list of things that would make St. Paul’s educators feel safer, according to the survey.

‘Safety starts with the classroom door’

In Wisconsin, three Racine USD teachers have sued their district over the handling of safety complaints. Over the past 18 months, the teachers had filed grievances over a student firing a gun in a school bathroom and fights involving students and staff, The Journal Times reported.

Shooting and other violence in Nashville, Tennessee, Clark County, Nevada and Tacoma, Washington, over the last week have spurred calls from teachers unions for administrators to take more aggressive safety measures. Discontent in Tacoma led teachers to vote no confidence in a middle school principal and assistant principal, KOMO News reported.

“Safety is an issue. It starts basically with the classroom door and how we talk to each other and how we treat each other, and I would say that we have failed miserably,” one of the teachers told KOMO News.

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is the managing editor of District Administration and a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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