School staff report wanting to leave profession, citing violence from students and parents

Nearly half of teachers and a third of administrators said they are planning or want to quit or transfer jobs due to concerns about school climate and safety, according to a recent report from the American Psychological Association’s task force on violence against educators and school personnel.

Based on surveys conducted between July 2020 and June 2021, the report found that about 33 percent of teachers reported at least one incident of verbal harassment or a threat of violence from a student, while 42 percent of administrators reported having been harassed or threatened by a parent.

The nationwide survey asked nearly 15,000 preK-12 teachers, administrators, school psychologists and social workers, paraprofessionals, instructional aides and other school staff about their experience with threats of violence, including verbal harassment, threats and cyberbullying from students, parents or guardians, colleagues and administrators, as well as physical violence from students. More than 94 percent of those surveyed worked in public schools.

Some findings were alarming. About 22 percent of school staff, including instructional aides and school resource officers, reported being physically assaulted by a student, as did 18 percent of school psychologists, 15 percent of school administrators and 14 percent of teachers. Physical violence committed by students occurred more frequently in the Midwest (19 percent) and less frequently in the Northeast (12 percent), according to responses.

Middle schools presented the highest incident rates, with 37 percent of survey participants reporting verbal and threatening violence from students and 30 percent reporting it from parents. Rates were also significant in high schools, with 32 percent of respondents reporting verbal or threatening violence from students and 25 percent from parents.

Verbal harassment or threatening violence from students was the most frequent type of violence in public schools (30 percent), followed by verbal harassment or threats of violence from parents (27 percent). In private schools, parents were more likely to verbally harass or threaten violence (26 percent) compared to their children (19 percent).

As a result, 43 percent of teachers surveyed reported wanting to quit, while 26 percent said they would transfer. Administrators also said they were leaning toward quitting (27 percent) rather than transferring (13 percent), as did other school staff including school psychologists and social workers.

“Physical and verbal violence directed against teachers may be exacerbating reports of high stress, transfers and leaving the profession,” researchers found. “As teachers and schools learn to adjust to the realities of education during COVID, it is important to understand school safety concerns and how to best address them to create an effective and safe environment for students, teachers, and school staff.”

District leaders can aid in these efforts. The report includes several recommendations, including:

  • Prioritizing the mental health of staff and students, and encouraging school-based and community partnerships focusing on mental health supports and trauma-informed practices
  • Considering educators’ voices in discussions and decision-making, particularly regarding discipline and school climate
  • Improving professional development for staff to better respond to social-emotional needs of students, other educators and themselves
  • Offering training on interventions for preventing violence, building positive school climates and strengthening teacher-parent collaboration
  • Lawmakers should provide additional funding for such training as well as school-based mental health services