Authority constitutes one of the cores of the teacher’s professional identity. It is essential to guarantee effective classroom management and instruction (Wenren, 2014) , and plays a key role as a base of control in maintaining a discipline in the class. In recent generations, the unconditional authority of traditional figures such as teachers, parents, and religious leaders is dramatically diminishing (Graça, Calheiros, & Barata, 2013; Omer, 2008) , as it undergoes a transformation to contemporary authority (Omer, 2008; Yaffe, 2017; Yaffe & Seroussi, 2018) . Some argue that this shifting into more democratic, child-oriented authority, takes its toll, as we have been witnessing a disturbing increase in school violence around the world over recent decades. Nowadays, schools are more violent and dangerous than they were in the past, with students’ violence considered as one of the greatest risks factors of the educational authority crisis in the post-modern era (Maman, Faraj-Falah, & Napso, 2018; Guskov, 2016) . The scope and severity of the phenomenon were first exposed to the American public in 1978, when the “Safe School Study” report revealed that 282,000 students and 5200 teachers were physically assaulted each month (Yablon, 2011) .
Surprisingly, the research on students’ violence against teachers is still slight, lacking an established theoretical model or perspective to lead systematic investigation of the phenomenon in schools (Berkowitz, 2017; Harel-Fish, Walsh, & Shteinmatz, 2016) . A group that examined 2998 teachers in 48 countries over the world found that 80% of teachers had experienced various kinds of violence between 2011-2012, 34% reported harassment, verbal threats, and cyber violence. More than 50% reported theft or vandalism, and 44% also reported physical injury from thrown objects (Macmahon & Martinez, 2014) .
Over the years, several attempts have been made in Israel to better understand the phenomenon of violence among youth in schools (Horowitz & Amir, 1981; Astor, 1988; Horowitz, 2000, Gumpel, 2001; Noy & Roche, 2001) . In a comprehensive study (Benvenisti, 2005) that encompassed students in the fourth to eleventh grades from all Israel’s sectors, their teachers and principals unveiled disturbing trends: 15.5% of the principals reported violence by students who harmed them in school or after school, while 9.5% of them reported that a student threatened a teacher with a chair, stone, or other objects. 2.5% reported that a student punched, kicked, or bit a teacher, and 1.6% reported that a student had cut or injured a teacher, or had threatened a teacher with a knife at least once in the past month (0.7%). The most common violent events reported by teaches were curses, humiliation, or insults directed to them (15.5%), theft or vandalism of their property (2.3% - 3.5%), sexual remarks (1.5%), and being hit by a chair or other objects directed against them (1.1%).
In Israeli study conducted by the National Network for Measurement and Evaluation in Education (National Authority for Measurement and Evaluation in Education, 2016) , 2148 teachers from 429 schools took part in a national survey on school violence. According to the data, verbal violence against a teacher reached the rate of 20%, while property offenses at school were at a 2% rate. Interestingly, the reporting rate of physical violence against teachers was twice as high in Arab schools (12%) as compared to Hebrew-speaking schools (6%).
We have chosen to share with the reader a sharp criticism that emerges from educators’ statements regarding the educational system’s helplessness in dealing with incidents when a teacher is injured by student. Ettlinger (2003) writes, “Almost every day a small news report is swallowed up on the margins of the press—a teacher attacked, a school principal was hurt, a student hit. In the collective memory those reports accumulate to dozens, but it won’t save the first teacher who will be murdered, nothing will longer help him— not the praises for being one of the best teachers in the school, nor the praising of his good attitude toward students and parents over the years. The moments of humiliation he absorbed over the years, he will take him to the grave”. According to Finkelstein (2005) , a former Israeli Knesset member and school principal, violence against teachers has become an integral part of Israeli society’s routine, which is influenced by the global mindset that places a great weight on students’ rights without realizing that the teacher’s dignity and authority are pushed aside. According to her, “the teacher has become a ‘punching bag’—he/she has no significant deterrent tools, and does not feel that he/she has legal backup from the system while he or she intervenes in a fight or defend him/herself against a violent offence”. Erez (2005) , chairman of the teachers’ union, believes that the problem lies in teachers’ lack of authority, and that the violence is increasingly rearing its ugly head and teachers are forced to confront it without tools. Wilf (2009) points to a case in which a teacher lost her finger as a result of a violent response to her request to leave the classroom, where the offender student was returned to the school in opposition to the board’s decision and the teachers’ will. This is a “test case” she argues, whereby silencing ensures a dangerous deterioration and collapse of what remains of the teacher’s status, acting in impossible conditions of impotence. From the following depiction we can learn about the deliberations of a school principal regarding the right way of dealing with a challenging student who has hard time sitting in class and study and who tends to suffer from tantrums, something that made it difficult for teachers to include her in class. But when she was out she was often involved in violent incidents, which increased the mutual distrust between her and the environment: “As a principal I think that the educator should detach himself and focus on what is right for the student at the moment. On what would advance him. Questions such as—how do teachers encourage students with difficulties? How do they create an educational language in a large institution? How do teachers empower them and create a sense of partnership while maintaining educational principles?” (Bloch, 2017) .
2. Objective and Research Questions
In this study, we seek to examine the treatment of student violence against teachers from the point of view of the educational staff at “Narkis” School (a fictitious name for an Arab school in northern Israel). The main research questions were: What types of violence are common in the school? What are the characteristics of the violent student? What causes violence students against teachers? How do teachers deal with students demonstrating violence against them? How do teachers propose that the education system deal with this phenomenon?
3. Research Methodology
This is qualitative research of the type known as a case study. Case studies are normally conducted in the context of human activity at a particular time and place, seeking to understand a phenomenon that is part of the everyday fabric (Behrendt, 2017; Fuadiah & Suryadi, 2019; Kalu & Norman, 2018; Stake, 2005; Utami, 2019; Yin, 2012) —violence against teachers in the education system. Thus, the researcher uses a “holistic approach” (Abuhav, 2013) , focusing on uncovering, learning, and understanding the inner world of one’s “subject”, from the subject’s perspective (Toval-Mashih, 2013; Denzin & Lincoln, 2000) . In this approach, behavior is examined from the subject’s point of view, that is to say, definitions, beliefs, values, and ideologies (Pelto & Pelto, 1978) . Most of the research field work is based on ethnographic, structured in-depth interviews as a primary source of information that enables the interviewee to tell his story freely while remaining focused on the research questions (Kapel-Green & Mirsky, 2013; Shkedi, 2011; Fontana & Frey, 2005; Maman, Farag-Falah, & Tkhawkho, 2018) . A researcher assistant conducted the interviews in the Arab community where she lives with six teachers from the “Narkis” School, aiming to discuss their personal experience of student violence (Spradley, 1979) . She contacted them with familiar acting teachers and interviewed them on face to face basis (Lamsa, 2019) in their home. Each interview took about 50 minutes. The interviews were conducted in Arabic and were recorded throughout the interviews. As a matter of ethical confidentiality, the names of the teachers used here are fictitious (Table 1).
As stated, the six interviewees conducted a structured interview based on a list of pre-prepared questions, which were asked in the interview in the following order:
4. Structured Interview
General Questions about Violence
1) Define your terms for “violence”.
2) Detail the types of violence common in the school.
3) Based on your experience, what are the characteristics of violent student?
4) What are the causes of violence in your opinion?
Table 1. Included respondents (fictitious names for ethical reasons).
5. Interaction between Teacher and Students
5) What are your difficulties as a teacher facing a violent student?
6) How do you deal with such a student?
7) Who do you consult to solve the difficulties and what is the nature of the dialogue with these parties?
8) How do you perceive the role of the violent student’s parents as part of the solution?
6. Conclusion and Suggestion
9) What significant changes have occurred in you as a teacher over the years after you were exposed to violent students?
10) What can you propose the education system do to better cope with this phenomenon?
11) What do you propose to change in the law to better deal with this phenomenon?
12) What is the best suggestion you would give a new teacher on this subject?
After the interviewees’ responses were translated from Arabic to Hebrew, the researchers carefully read them and conducted an individual content analysis for every one of them in order to increase their validity and reliability, in attempt to reach a joint agreement regarding the thematic trend stemming from the answers (Konur, 2019) .
The data collected via the structured interviews were carefully read and analyzed in accordance with the categories that guided the construction of the interview under each question’s category. This process reflects the Etic approach (Gabbaton, 2001; Miles & Hubermaan, 1994) . The analysis of the content of each question was carried out using the Emic approach, that is, the composition of the themes and sub-themes that emerge from the responses (Glaser & Strauss, 1967; Miles & Hubermaan, 1994; Bawa, 2017) . Tzabar (1995) claims that this is a process with no shortcuts, during which the researcher searches for clear, important, interesting, and repetitive elements, establishes categories for classification, selects analytical units, and locates sections of content (Shakedi, 2005; Charmas, 2005; Konur, 2019; Perakyla, 2005; Shanthi, 2017) .
This section consists of two parts. The first includes general information on the school to which the interviewees belong, the projects in which they operate, and their description. This is the context in which the events and the educational experience have taken place, and therefore it is important for the reader to be exposed to it as is customary in ethnographic research. In the second part, we present the analysis’s results of the interviews conducted with the teachers.
“Narkis” is a comprehensive school (middle school and high school) that is part of the regular state stream in the Arab sector. The school was founded in 1992 and serves the Arab population in a regional council of nine villages, with 184 teachers and 1710 students in100 classes. The high school includes several study tracks, and the school runs a long series of educational projects intended for teachers and students.
The school is located between two villages in northern Israel, in a large isolated area, surrounded by groves of olive trees. In the front is a large car park for buses, divided into nine platforms, intended for each village from which the students arrive. At the entrance, to the right and left are two booths selling food. The school includes five major departments: high school, two junior high schools (middle schools), administration, and laboratories and computers. The teachers’ rooms are located in the junior high school department. There is a large courtyard in front of the management wing, which serves as a playground, where most of the students gather during breaks. It also serves for sports classes and soccer competitions between the classes.
Analysis of the interviews
Part One—Background on Violence at the “Narkis” School
Definitions of the concept “violence”
No uniformity was found for the definition of the violence concept by the teachers interviewed, but the majority claimed that violence consists of “physical or verbal harm to another person.” As teacher Randa says, “Violence is an act that harms other people”. Zaher’s response was different. In his opinion, “violence is a broad and varied concept that indicates undesirable, unacceptable action. To force the other to do something, also constitutes a certain dimension of violence”.
Examples of violent interactions between teacher and student at school
In their responses to this question, teachers distinguished between physical violence and verbal violence, as Ahmad stated: “The most common form of violence is bodily harm, such as beatings. Also common is a verbal violence, which includes threats and the use of insulting expressions that offend the honor and emotions of another person”. An example of such a situation which demonstrated a negative-violent relationship between a teacher and a student: “One of the teachers asked a certain student to sit quietly and not to interfere with the lesson. The teacher warned the student two times, before he shouted at him and asked him to leave the class. The student insisted and refused to leave the classroom and told the teacher—I do not want to leave, if it bothers you, so you go out. The teacher tried to take him go out and grabbed his shirt, and the student started yelling at the teacher and the teacher yelled back at him. Other teachers heard the shouting and hurried to intervene. The student was suspended from school for two days with a letter sent to his parents, after he refused to apologize to the teacher”.
From the following example we can learn about the negative role played by a child’s parent in the evolving negative interaction between the two parties, teacher-student: A class educator asked his students not to bring cell phones to school. However, one of the students took out his cell phone and began using it in front of the teacher. When the latter saw this, he took the device away from the student. The student shouted at him and threatened to “take him the police”. The situation was very tense, and if one of the teachers had not intervened and separated them, it might have resulted with a quarrel between the sides. After school, the student’s father called the teacher and threatened him and shouted at him. The next day, the frightened teacher gave the phone back to the student and did not dare to talk about what had happened to him. The student began to be show off in front of other students because he “overcame the teacher who was afraid of his father”.
And here is another example of a violent interaction (teacher-student-principal): A teacher was forced to change a grade for a student in the 11th grade who received a low grade in a certain pre-high school diploma test, at the request of the principal. According to the interviewee, “the student’s father is not an easy person who has a lot of connections and can do many things and it is impossible not to accept his request, especially since he is from my village”. The teacher was forced to change the grade to a passing grade, despite his awareness of the results of this act. What was more serious is that the student did not stop there, but asked the teacher to help him with the high school diploma exams and to give him all the exam’s answers. After the teacher refused, he got threats by phone, which made him so scared that he was away from school for three days near the examination’s date, claiming he was ill.
8. Characteristics of the Violent Student
In this context, we found diversity in the interviewees’ words. Some described the violent student as insolent, lacking boundaries, and disrespectful to others. According to Zaher, “this student has no idea what it is to honor the others. He does not even have any interest in the other person”. Other teachers linked the violent child to his lack of success in school. According to Randa, “In my opinion, a violent student has a weakness in his studies. And since he is a low achiever, he is depressed, so he expresses it through a violent behavior”. In teacher Ahmed’s opinion, we can also find in the school a violent student whose behavior stems from the desire to get attention from those around him. “Such a student actually tries to stand out, he draws attention by the act of misbehavior”.
9. Reasons for Students’ Violence
In their comments here, the teachers chose to focus on outside-school factors. Most of them claimed that the background—the environment and family conditions—lead to student violence. For example, “a family with problems such as the parents’ divorce, an unemployed father, or an alcoholic”. There are also problems between the parents, such as disputes and quarrels which normally take place in front of their children and play a central role in violent acts in school. Other teachers argued that the family’s economic state constitutes a catalyst for acts of a violent character. Asil says, “The economic situation is a very significant factor, and the child acts out his frustration from not being able to achieve things in a violent manner”. Raif’s answer was unique. In his opinion, there is another reason other than school for violence, which is politically related. “We have already seen that arguments and opposing views between students on political issues can ignite acts of violence”, he says. Bilal offers another point of view in this regard, arguing that “There is a reality in which the selection of teachers, principals, or supervisors does not seem appropriate to the parents, who assert that they are unsuitable for their job. This inflames the atmosphere and creates a comfortable ground for an outburst and tension in the school”.
10. Part Two—Teachers Confronting Students’ Violence against Them
All the teachers claimed that it was difficult for them to deal with students who demonstrated violence against them. Asil notes that this is due to fear regarding her future employment: “I am hesitant about responding, I am hesitant about what to do, and I find it difficult to remain silent and find it hard to respond negatively. I am concerned for my job. What would I do if some student pressed charges against me at the police? So, I would rather stay quiet but crumble from within”. Bilal shares with us his fears of his possible extreme reaction to violence towards him: “My difficulty is with my response, which can also be violent and matching to violence against me. One day, a student will show violence against me that I will not tolerate. I am not interested in what will happen, and the most important thing is that my honor”. Randa, from her point of view claims that it is precisely the law that restricts her response and criticizes it for that, saying that “if the law would give us more rights and more power, then I would be able to protect myself and my honor. Sometimes I would have wanted to respond illegally, I really felt like hitting back at the violent student, but the law prevents me from doing that and limits me”.
11. Ways of Dealing with a Student Who Exhibits Violence towards the Teacher
Most teachers noted that they hold a personal conversation with the student, trying to understand what drives his violence towards them. Zaher says, “I try to understand what made him behave toward me in such a violent way, and then I try to help him as much as I can”. Other teachers stressed that they involve a school professional when a violent situation arises between them and a student. Asil says: “I send the student out of the classroom and call the social worker who is in the school to treat him”. Renda gets help from the homeroom teachers: “I tell the homeroom teacher about this act, that is, I pass this on to him or her, so that he or she can deal with him”. Ahmad, in contrast, chooses to invite the parents: “I immediately involve the parents of the violent student. I call them, describe and explain the incident, and ask them to come and meet me at school”.
12. The Teacher’s Dialogue with Support Groups
All of the teachers reported that they consulted with school officials if they encountered a violent student. Raif consulted with the homeroom teacher of the violent student, saying, “I tell the homeroom teacher about the incident with the student and consult him about the violent expressions of the particular student.” Asil approached the school psychologist asking “to explain the case to him but also to get advice from him for the future.” Bilal notes that he consults with his colleagues: “I consult with teachers from my staff, we are constantly discussing these issues together and trying to help each other”. Zaher says that the nature of the event dictates to whom to appeal: “I consult with various bodies according to the extent of the violent manifestation—the school principal, the homeroom teacher, the grade coordinator, or the parents’ committee”.
13. The Role of the Violent Student’s Parents in the Process
The interviewed teachers were divided in their perceptions regarding the parents’ role in the coping process. Some believe that parents have a major and important role to play in preventing the child’s violence: “If the parents intervene correctly and support the offended teacher in that case, rather than their son who made a mistake, so if they do it correctly, their intervention might be useful. Because violence in general comes from the child’s home and from the child’s environment”. On the other hand, some teachers hold the child’s parents responsible for his violence: “The parents usually escalate the situation because they do not admit their child’s mistake and constantly stand by his side. Such a student will not learn a lesson and will not stop his acts of violence. And this, due to the parents’ negative backing”.
14. Part Three—Conclusions and Suggestions
14.1. The Changes That Occurred in the Teachers after Being Exposed to Students’ Violence
The teachers’ responses are varied. Some claimed that over the years they had acquired tools for coping and solving violent situations with students. As Ahmed says, “Today I already have the ability to find tools and through them to solve certain situations with the students.” Other interviewees admitted that at present they were less optimistic. As Bilal says, “Over the years, we have lost control of the class and have become less tolerant, as the number of violent students continues to grow, and I admit that I have become less tolerant because I simply cannot stand this reality anymore.” Of all the interviewees only one, Zaher, testified that there was no change in him because “I always overcome difficulties and try to move on.”
14.2. Proposals to the Education System Regarding Students’ Violence
The teachers’ proposals for the education system varied. Some felt that only a fundamental change in the law enforcement system would lead to a real confrontation with the violence of the students against the teachers. Some directed their answers, as Bilal said, “To change all the regulations and laws regarding violent students”, which, in Raif’s words, will allow “real authority and real tools for coping and making decisions in cases of violence against the educators.” Other interviewees believe that the key to solving the problem lies in focusing on finding a suitable framework for the violent student, as Randa puts it: “integrating them into a unique framework in the school.” In contrast, Ahmed proposed a different solution. In his opinion, the school is supposed to act as an informational body and thus “I propose to build programs and activities and workshops from early childhood through high school in which all the participants—teachers, students, and parents—will take part.”
14.3. Targeted Proposals for Changes in the Law and Procedures
Most teachers agree that there should be a fundamental change in procedures and laws for students demonstrating violence against teachers. At the same time, some of them believe that “the teachers’ authority must be increased and thus restrictions of the rights of the violent student are to obtain”. “I suggest to enact a new law—the punishment law—a student who is aware that there is a heavy punishment, such as service work, then he/she might act differently. I mean, the student will know that there’s a red line, and if he or she exceeds it, they will be punished”. Only Zaher claimed that he is not authorized to propose a change in the existing law. “This law is the law and with what exists there is no argument.”
14.4. Suggestions for a New Teacher on Dealing with a Violent Student
As for the suggestions for a new teacher, it turns out that each teacher of the six teachers interviewed had a different proposal for a new teacher in the school in dealing with a student who demonstrates violence towards him:
Raif: “I suggest that just as the teacher begins working in the classroom he or she will define the boundaries regarding unacceptable behavior and set the corresponding penalties”.
Randa: “I propose to allow the student a hearing, to hear him, to try to understand the reason that made him violent, and to try to treat him on a personal level in order to help.”
Asil: “The teacher must arrange a meeting between the child and the school psychologist in order to try to find problems and generally to help him with proper tools.”
Zaher: “Immediately involve the child’s parents, to understand him and to help him and them even via treatment.”
Ahmed: “Only through an appeal to all authorized parties involved, such as educator, other teachers, counselor, and parents, when there is a real consistent intervention from all them, the results of change will be achieved”.
Bilal: “In my opinion, the new teacher should make sure that the violent student is transferred to a remote school that deals with violent students.”
The aim of the study was to investigate coping with students’ violence against teachers from the point of view of the educational staff (6 teachers) from “Narkis” school, which belongs to the Arab sector. Here, in the discussion section, we will address this issue in two ways. At first, the prominent points in the interviewers’ statements will be discussed. Then, based on the study’s results integrated with some theoretical frameworks, we will propose a more comprehensive approach, which we believe has practical potential for dealing with the violence of students against teachers at schools.
16. Prominent Points That Appear in the Interviews with the Teachers
1) Violent interactions between a student and a teacher may occur within the routine of the educational act and “flare up” quickly due to a lack of willingness of the student to honor and conform with the teacher’s instructions, while stuck in his own position, showing brazenness, and even threatening the teacher. This may be a core point in decoding the phenomenon in question, which reflects the actual and perceived erosion of the teacher’s traditional authority. As it is the case in the home (i.e., parental authority), the contemporary educator’s authority at school is no longer based upon the foundations that characterized it in past days (such as total respect for authority figures, obedience, legitimacy to exert power) (Omer, 2008; Yaffe & Seroussi, 2018) . On the contrary, the new form of educational authority receives much less social consensus, as evidenced by the constant threat that hangs over the teachers’ heads—the support of the family members for their child, sometimes by using force against the teacher.
2) According to the teachers, one can draw a “multi-circular profile” of the violent child. In the inner circle—low achievements at school, frustration, desire for attention. In the second circle—a difficult family background such as divorced parents, stress and violence at home, an unemployed parent, or an alcoholic. And in the surrounding circle—extroverted behavior towards those surrounding him, whether verbally (insults, curses, threats, raising voice), or physical (unacceptable action or violent physical contact with a teacher).
3) The teachers are very frustrated. On the one hand, they want to teach in an optimal manner and thus keep their job and income, their self-respect, and their identification with the teaching profession. On the other hand, they are aware that they lack legal protection and they have no deterrent punishment force against the violent student. In such a reality, they choose to turn to “internal and external support circles” (a psychologist, a social worker, a homeroom teacher, teachers from the staff, the principal, the parents), consult with them, or pass the child’s treatment over to them.
4) All teachers believe that the desired change will come only if rules of conduct are enacted, which are clear for all parties (students-teachers-parents) and will be uncompromisingly enforced at the school with any student who chooses to break the behavior rules.
At this stage, we would like to propose a new model for dealing with student violence at schools, along with improving the teachers’ authority. The model is based on the realization that the teacher will undergo a process of ongoing socialization in this context:
Stage 1—Training the teaching trainees in educational colleges: It is important to present dilemmas, conflicts, and problems related to student violence, integrated with experiences from the field to enrich the repertoire of teaching trainees on this subject.
Stage 2—Entrance to school and beginning teaching work: A new teacher does not always know how to deal with disciplinary problems and, moreover, with the violence of students towards him. His anonymous request to the “Open Line for Teachers in Distress” can help him, because the line is operated by experienced veteran teachers.
Stage 3—Daily routine at school: We support Finkelstein’s (2005) position that the principal of the school should not “sweep under the carpet” the violent incidents against the teachers for purposes of the school’s popularity, and therefore we suggest:
1) To run a “regulated program” to deal with violence in every school (Glick & Wasserman, 2007) . Since the teacher’s authority in schools is undermined, clear rules of conduct should be established. In our opinion, we have moved very far from what is desirable when it comes to setting limits and enforcing authority at school, but the teachers can patiently take a step in this desired direction. Finkelstein (2005) argues that we should not strive for the relationships between students and teachers to be exclusively inspired and led by the goal of defending the teachers. Nevertheless, in view of the current situation, we support her proposal to act “for legislation” because it will provide security and authority to the teacher’s status itself.
2) As part of the regular school meetings of the inter-professional staff, students with a predisposing violent profile (e.g., low achievers, problematic home background, previous cases of violence, and more) should be pointed out in advance. Students with these “warning signs” can be attached to a mentor teacher who would cooperate with the parents and help to prevent them from reaching a situation whereby the student exhibits violent behavior towards a teacher.
3) In case a student demonstrates violence against a teacher and is suspended and reaches the District Hearing Committee, all parties must be allowed to express their position. We also argue that if the issue comes to court, the teacher as a civil servant should be entitled to legal protection.