I-TEAM: Teachers describe ongoing issues that contribute to crisis in the classroom

As students head back to school, the I-TEAM recently surveyed more than 370 local teachers to get their honest feedback on the challenges they face.
Published: Aug. 24, 2023 at 5:16 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - As students head back to school, the WAFB I-TEAM recently surveyed more than 370 local teachers to get their honest feedback on the challenges they face inside the classroom. Many who responded gave valuable insight into the problems within the profession and the opportunities for improvement.

Under the promise of anonymity, teachers who received a survey through their work emails, some area educators describe what they’re dealing with as a crisis in the classroom, specifically when it comes to student behavior. Student fights happen almost daily in the very places where students are supposed to be learning and the WAFB I-TEAM has learned that sometimes as teachers try to step in, they end up getting hurt.

Brandy Mangus has 23 years of experience as an educator. She’s taught at three different districts in Louisiana and says student behavior is a major problem for many of her colleagues.

“It comes to a point where we’re almost torn between managing a class’s behavior and managing it,” Mangus said.

To be clear, Mangus praises the district that she works for currently, saying it is the best place she has ever worked and that she plans to work through the rest of her career there. She admits though that other districts she has worked in previously have not afforded her the best experience. She recalls one time in particular where she tried to intervene in a student fight and says things could have easily gotten out of hand.

“I had to take sole responsibility for the safety of a much smaller student and physically block another student from access and that student attempted to - not with their hands- but physically push past me and I was able to stop it until I received help.”WAFB’s Scottie Hunter asked the teacher if she felt vulnerable in that situation.

“To a degree, yes,” she answered. “My brain was thinking what is my next step if this doesn’t work. If this escalates, how can I prevent the student from getting access to her would-be victim?”

While she did not get hurt, other teachers tell the WAFB I-TEAM they have been hurt on the job. WAFB surveyed more than 370 local teachers in recent weeks using an online invite sent to their emails. In their responses, 133 of them- more than 30 percent-- say they have been injured on the job in some sort of way, including by a student. When asked if the state is doing enough to address their safety, 183 teachers- more than half say no.

WAFB reached out to the Louisiana Department of Education, requesting the number of teacher injuries statewide. A spokesman for the agency says the state does not formally track teacher injuries as a standalone data item, adding that they would receive the data if it was reported as part of a discipline incident. That spokesman released the following statement.

“Aside from the parent or guardian, the classroom teacher has the greatest impact on student learning. For teachers to be at their best, they need an environment where they are safe and can focus on high quality instruction. We support the work of our school systems to set stronger discipline policies. There is no room to be soft on consequences with repeat distractors. That’s not fair to teachers trying to teach or students trying to learn.”

Mangus said she is not surprised that the data is not formally tracked.

“The state doesn’t track injuries in that manner more than likely because they’re not reported. Teachers are fearful that if they report an injury their job would be on the line,” Mangus said.

Mangus says the job is made more challenging when students realize there’s not much they can actually do as educators to manage their behavior.

”In some instances a student is written up and then maybe 10 to 15 minutes later they’re returned to class and it leads to a breakdown of that system in general,” said Mangus. “The discipline system no longer works and the students see that and so it just escalated tensions between teachers, between administration and between students until at times it’s a hostile work environment for a teacher.

”While many of the teachers who were surveyed were very candid about the challenges they face, Mangus was one of only a few who agreed to be interviewed so far. She says given the things she has witnessed and the problems she knows exist, there was no way she could stay silent.

”It’s hard being in a situation where that came into question where I actually considered an entire career change,” said Mangus. “But knowing that there are so many teachers out there that are in that position, how can I not speak up? How can I remain silent when I know that my peers and ultimately our next generation are suffering because we have a problem and we haven’t found a solution?”

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