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May 18, 2008

Is It OK For A Teacher To Defend Herself?

Dc OK. I'll start out by saying this could very well be a controversial post. And I'll also add, I do not have both sides of the story. I only have what's been reported in the news.

Last Wednesday Fairfax County Public Schools teacher Maria Waugh (who has been a teacher for 16 years) had a choice to make. A special ed student was not listening to her directions and physically attacked her. In the process of getting him (a 12 year old) off of her, she also got physical with him. He told his parents. She is now charged with a misdemeanor assault. And she has resigned from the school system.

Like I said, we only have her side of the story. The child has not been identified, and his parents have not come forward to talk about it. The school can not comment about it either.

But, the teacher does have a broken finger nail and bruises and swelling on her arm.

We have been told the student has had behavioral problems in the past and has been identified as a special needs student. The email accounts at Fairfax County Public Schools also identify Ms. Waugh as a general ed teacher, as does the school's staff list on their website. This tells me the child was probably not at a self-contained level, but a resource level, which means he receives up to 15 hours a week of instruction from a special ed teacher, the rest from the general ed teacher. He may or may not have had goals to address behavior and compliance issues. The students choice to not listen and then attack his teacher may or may not have been due to his disability.

But, what about the teacher? Was she supposed to stand there, in front of her class and allow him to continue to hit/push her? Is she not allowed to defend herself? General education teachers are not trained in handling physical altercations with students. Heck, most special education teachers aren't!

And, now she's been charged and has also resigned (which can only led me to assume her administration is not supporting her in her decision to defend herself).

Yea, she is the adult you may say. She shouldn't have pushed back you may say. She should have told another student to get another staff to assist her you may say. And what, stay there with a student attacking her while she waited? Ms. Waugh made the decision to defend herself with the tools she had in the heat of the moment.

I first read this case last Friday and have been thinking about it all weekend. And the reason is because what happened to her isn't too far off from what happened to me. I was a special ed teacher for 11 years. I mostly taught the 'tough kids' - self contained emotional and behavioral disabilities where I did need to be trained in therapeutic crisis intervention (ie: how to restrain a child). I also taught learning disabilities, mental retardation and autism. Last year I had a student that was extremely aggressive. I will not go completely into his situation, but I will say I still have the pictures of all the bruises I obtained from this child over the course of the entire school year. I still have the arm splint that I had to wear for 8 weeks because my arm was so badly bruised from being hit/kicked during one episode that the muscles were 'tomato juice' as my orthopedic doctor explained to me. It took a complete year to heal and to find out of I would have permanent nerve damage or not. That was my last year teaching. I took a year off and have decided not to go back. At the time I felt my administration did not support me. In fact, I was told to take a day off after the arm incident, and the student was not even suspended!

So, yea, I've had Ms. Waugh on my mind. When you pick a career of teaching you do so because of a desire to help children learn. However, it only takes one incident to make you have a change of heart. A situation like hers or mine may very well not happen again if we were to return to the classroom. But for me, it just isn't worth it. I wish the best of luck to Ms. Waugh with her court proceedings.   

This is an original post by Robin on DC Metro Moms. When not keeping up with current events in education, Robin can be found blogging at MyLifeAsItIs.

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