A Teacher Safety Perspective on Teacher Shortages

by James C. Sherlock

We have discussed here teachers shortages in Richmond and some of the other larger school divisions in Virginia.

When the issues of teachers being physically afraid to continue teaching because of behavioral chaos in the schools is brought up, it is ignored or dismissed by the left in favor of its “mean parents” narrative.

The facts do not matter to that narrative. But they matter to nearly everyone else except, for some strange reason, the teachers’ unions. I have no explanation for that.

Let’s look at high school teachers’ (and students’) fears for their safety from student assault.

I offer in evidence 2020 Virginia School Climate Survey Division Report Grades 9 through 12 Richmond City Public Schools. It is from the immediate pre-COVID period, and is the last such survey published.

The Virginia Secondary School Climate Survey provides schools with an assessment of school climate and safety conditions from the perspective of students and teachers/staff. The purpose of this division-level report is to help identify strengths and weaknesses that can guide efforts to improve school safety and student learning.

This division-level report combines responses from 816 students and 178 teachers/staff from 9 school(s) in your division. Regional results are based on 16,948 students and 2,677 teachers/staff in 43 high schools.

You will note that it compares Richmond high schools with state averages in the Summary Results and with other divisions in Region 1 in the Student Perceptions and Teacher/Staff Perceptions sections.

Two big conclusions jump out at me.

  1. Richmond high school teachers are two standard deviations more likely than teachers statewide to report “student aggression ranging from insults and threats to physical attack.”
  2. The school climate survey results in high schools outside of Richmond but in the same Region 1 – Central Virginia are, unfortunately, comparable in many respects to those in Richmond.

Results related to #1:

  • 12% of Richmond high school teachers reported “a student physically attacked, pushed, or hit me.”
  • 37% reported “a student threatened to harm me.”

VTSS (Virginia Tiered System of Supports) for discipline was in place in Richmond in 2019-20 and had been for some time.  It was still there when the teachers finally went back to their classrooms in 2021-22.

So the timeline after this survey is that RPS teachers spent a year and a half at home (March 2020 – August 2021).  That was longer than any other school division in the state.  The only way any staff left under those conditions was on a gurney.

They came back, and the school division closed the schools in the first week of November 2021 “for the workers mental health”.  From Jason Kamras, the Superintendent:

“Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve heard directly from dozens of teachers, principals, and support staff about how stressful this year has been,” Kamras said in a letter. “Many have shared that they’re on the brink of burning out — even leaving — and it’s only October.”

Apparently VTSS had not kicked in yet.

Move along. Nothing to see here. Teacher resignations are a “mean parents” problem.

If readers can find any good news in the 2020 Virginia School Climate Survey linked above, please point it out.

If you think the tiered system of support disciplinary policies advocated by the Board of Education may have been reconsidered in light of such surveys, you are wrong. The revisions reflected in  2021 Model Guidance for Positive, Preventive Code of Student Conduct Policy and Alternatives to Suspension

Remembering that these climate surveys were conducted before the post-COVID school chaos, this survey can be considered the best case for these high schools.

So, it is not all about “mean parents” as the leftist media suggest. When considering why teachers have quit, it appears teacher fear for their own safety should make the cut.

If the teachers’ unions cared about their members, they would be clamoring for better discipline in schools. But they are not.

I find that very strange. And inexplicable.

Updated Aug 4, 2022 at 14:30