When students hit teachers | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 14.11.2016
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School in Germany

When students hit teachers

Spitting, hitting, shoving: Physical aggression is an everyday occurrence in schools. But a new study by the German teachers' union shows that it is on the rise - and is even increasingly directed at teachers.

A 14-year-old boy chokes his male teacher with a shoelace. A mother beats up her child's female teacher. A 15-year-old attacks four teachers with his fists. Each of these incidents ended in German courts last year - but started in school. And they are not isolated events, according to a survey conducted by the forsa research group on behalf of the German national teachers union (VBE).

The survey, titled "Violence against teachers," found that six out of 100 teachers had experienced at least one incidence of physical violence by students.  When extrapolated, that is equivalent to 45,000 teachers in Germany. "I'm taken aback that children in primary school already demonstrate aggression against teachers," VBE chief Udo Beckmann told DW. The physical or verbal aggression and lack of respect often already come from the parents and guardians, he says - and are frequently manifested in the presence of their children.

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Threats, insults, cursing or bullying - psychological violence is also a daily occurrence for many teachers in Germany. "Our biggest concern is that two-thirds of those surveyed expect more support and protection from their school administrations," Beckmann said. "This is a red flag. Teachers feel like they are on their own. These incidents get downgraded to private problems."

The violence does not end with the end of the school day. Two percent of teachers reported experiencing cyberbullying.

Beckmann fears that is a lowball estimate and the situation is actually far worse. The problem is that those targeted don't realize it for some time, usually after having their attention drawn to it by third parties. "By then, it has spread so far it is hard to trace it back," Beckmann said.

De-escalation not enough

According to the VBE, 57 percent of teachers say violence against them is a taboo subject. Better training for teachers only provided advice on de-escalation and how to handle the situation, and was not enough on its own to solve the problem, Beckmann told DW. According to him, it is more important to offer despairing teachers proper legal and psychological support. "They become mentally ill and unable to teach," he said. Defamatory comments do not just circulate among teachers, students and parents, but have far-reaching impacts - something which makes life for teachers doubly difficult.

The VBE represents the interests of about 140,000 educators in Germany. The survey included large samples across the German states of North Rhine-Westphalia, Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg. A few days ago, the VBE chapter in North Rhine-Westphalia released a warning about increased disrespect and brutalization of language throughout society generally, joining an appeal by teachers in Bavaria.

The problem is not confined just to schools: There is violence in the public service sector, as well. Verbal insults are on the increase, and members of the general public are much readier to become physically aggressive against civil servants if they are denied a request.

"We experience aggression, language of hate, contempt and discrimination, personal attacks, deliberate insults and exclusion in word and action," the Bavarian teachers' appeal reads. These declining standards of verbal behavior are having an effect on children and adolescents, it says. Neurological evidence suggests a close connection between aggressive language and aggressive behavior.