Brett Bigham is the 2014 Oregon State Teacher of the Year and a member of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year. For most of his career, he has worked at county-level special education that takes children when their needs are too much for local districts to handle.
I had a job interview recently. Even though I am pretty well known for my work with older students I was interviewing for a K-2 classroom. There are lots of reasons for the change but there is one reason I have kept to myself. I’m kind of ashamed to say it.
I’m tired of getting beat up. I don’t mean beat up in the “teaching is hard” kind of way .I mean getting physically assaulted. It’s the nasty secret that not many educators or districts like to talk about. But the truth is we have teachers, counselors, behavior management specialists and para-educators who are getting beaten regularly as part of their job.
I don’t mean an occasional push from an angry student. I mean a full-on beating where you find yourself being taken to the ground by a student as big, if not bigger than you are.
I’m struggling to figure out how to put this into words. Words might not be enough.
If you are thinking I’m exaggerating about the threats to my life, I’m not. Twenty is where I stopped counting. Four times I have been sent to the hospital by a student. I have been hit and slapped more times than I can count. I have been bit on the shoulder, wrist, stomach, buttock and both forearms.
One of those bites infected me with hepatitis. There was no sink where I was bit so I had to pour hand sanitizer into the wound. I don’t recommend that.
I’ve been hit over the back and head with a chair … twice. I’ve been hit in the head with a stick and later hit with a bigger stick. I’ve had enough books thrown at me to start a small library. Besides books, I’ve been hit by a stapler, a tape dispenser, rocks, dirt clods, shoes, scissors, several lunches, a broom, balls and had a live mole trap thrown at my head …I could go on but basically, if it is in a classroom, it’s been thrown at me. I’ve replaced four sets of glasses from students hitting me in the face.
I’ve been punched so hard I saw stars, not once, not twice, but three times.
I can go on. Seriously. This data is incomplete. I didn’t even talk about the student who, according to district data, tried to hit me over 300 times on one day. The student would walk in the room and start swinging. That student sent me to the hospital three different times, jammed several of my fingers trying to keep his punches from landing. After the student snuck up behind me and hit me over the back and head with a chair, I quit teaching for seven years.
That’s my data. It’s incomplete. If I was a boxer, they’d probably call me a prizefighter and retire me. But I’m not, I’m a teacher. And I’m tired of being beat up. And I’m ready to talk about it.