All types of injuries are becoming a regular on-the-job hazard for teachers in Oklahoma.
“In my seven years in the classroom, there were probably at least a dozen incidences that I felt the classroom community was unsafe,” said Oklahoma State Senator Carri Hicks.
Before she took on the role of state senator, Hicks was an elementary school teacher. Her time in the classroom had plenty of highs and lows. One low was when a fourth-grader hit her in the stomach; she was eight months pregnant at the time.
“It definitely did not make me feel safe, and I was worried about the other 29 sets of eyes in the classroom,” said Hicks.
Even now, it’s not easy for Hicks to talk about, and the same goes for a lot of other teachers.
“'I’m going to kill you. You’re going to die. You’re going to die by the end of the day.' That’s a verbal assault,” recited Shawna Mott-Wright with the Tulsa Classroom Teachers Association.
“Kids are saying that?” asked KTUL reporter Maureen Wurtz.
“Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah,” said Mott-Wright.
Mott-Wright first spoke with KTUL in December 2019. It was the first time she’d talked publicly about the issue.
“I had calls from all over the state. I had people thanking me for bringing it up, which made me feel awesome and broke my heart simultaneously,” said Mott-Wright.
It may be hard to talk about, but it’s not hard to see. Mott-Wright shared a couple of pictures of injuries with KTUL. Bruises on arms were from kindergartners, teeth marks from fourth graders, and one teacher had a chunk of her nose missing. That injury was caused by a first grader.
“Who is failing teachers?” asked Wurtz.
“That’s a big question,” said Mott-Wright. “I think a lot of it is people don’t understand.”
A quick check with school districts all over Green Country shows that most of them have a policy about what to do when a student attacks a teacher.
“If they have this policy, why isn’t it being followed?” asked Wurtz.
“That’s part of the conversation we’ve been having,” said Mott-Wright.
Mott-Wright is keeping track of attacks in both Tulsa and all over the state.
Since 2009, statewide, there have been 592 physical attacks on teachers, according to information provided by the State Department of Education. However, Mott-Wright believes that number isn’t right because it’s one of the most under-reported crimes.
“We have had a few sexual assaults, then we have several physical assaults,” said Mott-Wright, who’s working to create a detailed list of assaults. “The questions we asked are so broken down, and we are trying to get the data right.”
State Representative John Waldron, a former teacher, is now filing a bill that would require administrators to consider the opinion of teachers when making administrative decisions. Those decisions would include classroom environment and teacher safety issues.
“Teachers are reluctant to have those conversations because they would never want the child, student, or family to be labeled,” said Hicks.
Hicks knows her new job comes with a different set of responsibilities. Though she may be out of the classroom, she knows she has a chance to change it for the better.