A grainy cell-phone video of a student hitting Baltimore art teacher Jolita Berry in her classroom, replayed in the national news and on the Internet, has reinforced concern among school safety experts that teachers often don’t receive enough training in how to defuse potentially dangerous confrontations with students, the Baltimore Sun reports. Berry’s case has angered local officials, who said they would try to find ways to give teachers skills to deal with disruptive students.
Baltimore schools offer classes on how to deal with such situations, but they are voluntary and are available only to a few teachers. Those who study school violence say that kind of instruction is crucial. “An essential part of new-teacher training has to be about how to de-escalate conflict,” said Jane Sundius at the Open Society Institute, which has studied school suspensions and funded programs to improve student behavior. While the community response to school violence is often to clamp down with more metal detectors and harsher punishments, teachers and students will be safer if they learn to deal with confrontations themselves, experts say. “Rather than confront the child, learn to move the child away from their peers,” said April Lewis, director of safe and supportive schools in Baltimore. Students are often embarrassed in front of their peers and become more confrontational with a teacher because they don’t want to be seen as backing down, she said.