Punching the teacher

It’s dangerous to teach in some Chicago schools: Physical assaults on teachers are up 17 percent this year, reports the Chicago Trib.

Janet Pena-Davis is barely 5 feet tall, but the veteran English teacher doesn’t scare easily.

One day, though, a girl arrived 15 minutes late to class — and full of attitude. When the girl took out a snack and began to talk loudly to a friend, Pena-Davis asked the student to leave the class and try again the next day.

The girl hurled a full soda can at her head.

Pena-Davis was able to duck the can. But as the teacher went to close the classroom door, the girl dragged her into the hall and began to beat her –punching and scratching, pulling off her glasses and tugging viciously at her hair. The attack was enough to terrify Pena-Davis, 55, who walked out of Austin High School that day and never went back.

Teachers complain violent students get short suspensions and return to class before the victim’s bruises are healed.

Pena-Davis was assaulted by a girl who’d just returned from a 10-day suspension.

The school disciplinarian told her to be careful because the girl who had beaten her up had a boyfriend who already was looking to avenge his girlfriend’s arrest, Pena-Davis said. When she asked to fill out an assault report, she was told it was not necessary, she said.

When she called to follow up on the police report that was filed, the police told her to give up, she said. Nobody was going to pursue the case.

About Joanne


  1. Just John says:

    Wow, it’s like “omerta”, only without any mafia goons to enforce it.

    And gee, I wonder if that lovely fifteen-year-old is going to hurt someone else? Maybe seriously? (I didn’t register to see the article, so maybe she did.)

    I would think that after Columbine and similar attacks, schools might start taking a more serious look at kids who might as well be wearing a sign: “WILL SNAP AT ANY MOMENT”. Instead we’re busting people for having G.I.Joe miniature rifles. Yay.

  2. Who the hell determines who the “Will snap at any moment” kid is? The bottom line is that predicting school violence an inexact science, fraught with litigation and a public chomping at the bit to blame, then sue.

  3. Kirk Parker says:

    Suzie, your defensiveness is both unwarrented and unneeded (the latter because John’s comment is equally off the point.) The problem with the incident described here isn’t at all that the girl in question might, at some future time, do something worse. It’s that she already committed a serious, violent assault, and neither the school nor law enforcement thought they should do anything about it.

  4. D. Cooper says:

    SuzieQ… The bottom line is… PUNISHING school violence is an inexact science. And when the teacher describes ‘the attitude’… you’ve got to see one just once …they’re a thing to behold. Naastee!

  5. Bill Leonard says:

    The real point is, at what stage does the system stop acting in a politically correct, i.e., gutless, manner, and actually starts standing up to the creeps, the thugs, the losers who simply don’t belong there?

    The episode that is cited reminds me of the experience of a professional colleague who once was a middle school teacher.

    The colleague, white and female, while on yard duty in a California middle school, asked a large black girl (this was a 15- or 16-year old in the 8th grade) to please stop physically manhandling younger children. The girl, who weighed 160 or so, smacked my friend from behind and knocked her to the ground.

    My colleague’s principal’s repsonse? Please don’t cause trouble. Her (the offending girl’s) parents might sue. “Well,” said my friend, “so might I.”

    But she didn’t. She went back to college, got a master’s in public relations, and had a satisfying career in which she wasn’t threatened, physically or psychologically.

    The questions: how often does this shit go on? (Routinely, from what I read and hear). And, how long will we put up with it? Until those sorts of thuggish, sociopathic kids are the only ones left in public shcools? Until no one but the at-best marginally competent will teach in public schools, mostly because they have no other options?

  6. D. Cooper says:

    Bill, at that point … they’ll have to join the correction officers union and will no longer be teachers…eligible for combat pay I’d assume. Mad ain’t gonna like this.

  7. Assaults by certain ethnic groups are routine.

    One day in my son’s nice HS some members of a certain ethnic group (about 4), not students, came into the school, going into classes, looking for someone. They didn’t find him. But, as they left they decided to assault my son and his friend in the parking lot. A clear hate crime. Luckily, they ran away and weren’t hurt. All this was observed by the vice Principal.

    The school’s reaction? An emergency meeting of the administration about how to downplay it. No cops were called.

    When we filed a police complaint, we found out we were wasting our time, for various reasons. Basically, the cops said nothing would come of it.

    Nothing was ever done to the perpetrators. There wasn’t even an attempt to find them, although one was a known ex-student.

    So, the only solution is to avoid the situation, which, BTW, really isn’t hard.

    Live and learn.

  8. This is a real problem with public schooling.

    I had a student once who didn’t want to take a test so he took out his lighter and set his desk on fire.

    So, after I put out the fire, I sent the student to the office.

    Fifteen minutes later he returned with a note that said, “Warned and reprimanded.”

  9. Another John says:

    My question is, given all the idiotic uses of “zero tollerance” policies we see on this and other blogs, why wasn’t it applied in this case, where it clearly seems appropriate? Or do Chicago schools not have a zero tollerance policy?

  10. Just John says:

    Kirk: I see your point.

    But, I still think I’m not all that off the point. When I think of Columbine, I think of two kids that apparently showed every sign of wanting and even planning to commit violent acts, and were allowed to due to the school and the law sitting around and ignoring some clear signs. In this case, we have a girl come back after committing some unknown transgression, immediately beating up a teacher, apparently telling her boyfriend to go beat the teacher up too… and the school and the law respond in exactly the same way, by basically scoffing at the teacher’s attempts to respond to an assault in the correct way.

    And I’d also suggest that because that fifteen-year-old is not being properly restrained or punished, she’s going to feel emboldened and do something worse. It’s not a dead certainty, but the probability goes up every time she doesn’t get called on things like this.

  11. A minor wants to take a poke at me, i’ll kick the living shit out of them, then i’ll give them a warning that i’ll do the same to their entire family. If teenagers want to take a swing at adults, if the adults (screw the laws, since we all know they are useless) would simply beat the living crap out of these useless pieces of (you know what), then perhaps, they might get the idea that picking on someone isn’t such a good idea.

    I tend to get annoyed when I hear stories like this, and yes, i’ve slugged a few minors in my time, in self-defense.

  12. Walter Wallis says:

    If union membership were voluntary instead of coerced, perhaps the union would call all the teachers out until violence against teachers was [were?] punished.

  13. More years ago than I like to admit, I taught for a few years in the Chicago schools, mostly on the West side. At that time, it was understood that any assault on a teacher was unforgivable and the kid was automatically sent to a reform school. Kids often got away with assaults on others, but never on teachers. There were serious problems of violence in the schools then, but very few attacks on teachers.

    And it is downright puzzling that the teacher’s union is not doing more to protect its members. Political correctness, perhaps?

  14. Bob Diethrich says:

    I am in favor of loosening the “drop out” requirements. Any kid who does not want to be in school should be allowed to drop out, provided they have “proof” of a forty hour a week full time job.

    Of course few would take that option because we all know the only reason the thugs even go to school. They need victims.

    If they stay out of school then they have to mess with adults.

  15. Bob Diethrich says:

    …mess with adults like Bill up there (You go Bill)

    When I went through teacher certification a decade or so ago, I was told by the Chairman of Social Studies by a big city school district that, if we were attacked, we had every right to defend ourselves fully.

    I wonder if now a days I would not be reprimanded for “letting the situation get out of control” and then I would have to attend “anger management.”

  16. Heh, you want to improve public schools, the first day of class (run it like a college), you say to the students.

    Hello, I’m so-and-so, those of you who want to receive the knowledge i’m about to impart to you, remain seated, the rest of you can get out.

    I’d like to see how many students would ACTUALLY walk out (laws and idiot admins not withstanding).

  17. nobody important says:

    “Assaults by certain ethnic groups are routine.”

    Do you mean certain ethnic groups, en mass, routinely assault people? Like the Goths or Vandals? Or do you mean that members of certain ethnic groups, individually and in groups, assault people routinely? If you meant the latter, then the statement is meaningless, because everyone who commits an assault is a member of a certain ethnic group.

    Or do you mean to say that blacks assault whites more often than whites assault blacks? Which can be substantiated by crime statistics compiled by various law enforcement agencies.

  18. Perhaps the reason that “zero tolerance” doesn’t seem to apply in situations like this is because the victim was a teacher.

    We see some extremes on both ends of the spectrum–children suspended for carrying nail clippers and teachers beaten while administration looks the other way. There seems to be no single brand of stupidity out there. The only constant seems to be a stubborn determination by administrators and legislators to avoid logical action.

  19. D. Cooper says:

    Walter … the voluntary union idea is really absurd..and in my school at least that kid would have been dealt with more severly…more as a result of the union as opposed to otherwise. Any administration unwilling to deal with that situation wouldn’t have been let off the hook … at least with a union it’s not just you and some knucklehead administrator bowing to a crazed kid and his/her lawyer. NYSUT has lawyers too.

  20. Walter Wallis says:

    Unions that do not have to work to attract mambers, as in union or agency shops, pay very little attention to individual member complaints. Nothing attracts a BA’s attention like a handful of withdrawal slips.
    And, yes, I have been an officer in a voluntary union, the UMWA.

  21. D. Cooper says:

    Walter, that statement is about as false and misrepresentative of NYSUT as is possible. To say that NYSUT pays very little to individual complaints is absolutely preposterous. I can tell you of many many instances in just my local teachers union at my school. What you are saying couldn’t be further from the truth. The similarity between the UMWA, the UAW, the Teamsters or the like is purely the word union. You are talking about two completely different animals.

    For you to compare what NYSUT does in NYS for teachers and education to the United Mine Workers of America is nothing short of dishonest. Either you just don’t know about most teacher union organizations or you are trying to discredit them with an innaccurate comparison. I’ll assume the former on your behalf.

  22. Walter Wallis says:

    The UMWA damn well would never let management fail to protect members against assault. We would have shut the plant down. Do I believe what you say, no doubt with belief, or do I believe the article?

  23. What would have happened if the teacher defended herself so well that the girl was hurt more?

  24. She would have been arrested, charged with assault, lost her teaching certificate, been sued by the girl’s family, and been branded a raciest.
    And … after all that … she probably would have been beaten up even worse.

    After all … this is America!

  25. Putting cameras in the classrooms and hallways would solve a lot of these disputes, it seems to me. That sounds rather Orwellian, but if people are going to be suing when their precious child gets their hand slapped, some hard evidence is required.

  26. D. Cooper says:

    Walter … believe me and get free sky diving lessons. Besides, I’m right. I don’t ,nor do you, know all that transpired there, but I assure you that on the face of that incident it would not have turned out the same here on LI. Now I gave you the benefit of the doubt before assuming you just didn’t know about NYSUT, so do the right thing, and believe ME ME ME.

  27. Walter Wallis says:

    D.B., we never can know everything about anything, but if your union vigerously defends the memmbership then good on for them and for you. Unless the cited story was made of whole cloth, however, you have to admit a deficiency in her union’s representation. Union or not, I damn sure would have walked. Acceptance of an insult is not a survival trait.

  28. So why isn’t the NEA helping these teachers. The NEA is suppose to support the teachers but when the teachers really need it the NEA is no where to be found.

    The NEA is just a typical corupt union only supporting itself.

  29. D. Cooper says:

    Bob, you must know Mad, he’s a big union hater too. NYSUT, is not affiliated with NEA and to be sure someone dropped the ball in this case. Whether or not the union or whoever didn’t offer some assistance here is regrettable, but you can certainly see the kind of pressures that teachers are under and need to be defended. The real crime here is, is that no one came forth to assist the teacher in this situation. Again, all this assumes taking the story here on face value.

    And Walter, you get sky diving lessons. I’d like to know if anything more became of this.

  30. nobody important says:

    The real crime here was the assault and battery. Regardless of the union’s support, or lack thereof, why did the police refuse to respond?

  31. Doug in VA says:

    Anne, here in my neck of the woods, cameras didn’t help at all in a school theft episode – the parents of the girls caught on tape (twice!) still cowed the superintendent, who overrode the principal and had the thieves reinstated from their suspensions within two days. You need administrative spine to go with evidence, no matter if it’s on tape or from witnesses, as in this Chicago incident.

  32. If the school administration won’t support you, and your union won’t support you, then you still have one recourse. Go to your state’s education board. The state folks can usually be relied on to look into the situation, and to take appropriate action with the local district.

    In fact, sometimes just the threat of going to the state board is enough to get action. But be prepared to follow through; an empty threat is worse than nothing.

  33. D. Cooper says:

    Claire … you might even try the ACLU, but you’d have to beat the kid there first.

  34. Lou Gots says:

    Two observations coming from a retired lawyer who is now an urban public school teacher.
    First, The victim of crime could always pursue a private criminal complaint. The procedures are slow and cumbersome, but the victim should be able to get in front of a judge, most of whom, in my experience, go positively mideviel on juveniles who beat up teachers.

    As to why nobody, including the unions, seems to care, the answer often is that they do care–they care to see that teaching jobs go to their relatives, buddies and constituents after the thugs have driven all the other teachers out of the district.

  35. D. Cooper says:

    Lou… what planet are you from … if anything its friends of the supers and school board members… The head of the union in my school district although not disliked by the administration by no means had any pull in getting any new teacher hired… far from it …I know lots of people from lots of school districts and this is just not the case.

    Central administration and union officials while not enemies were far from buddy buddy. And what do you mean by thugs have driven all the other teachers out. What you speak of sounds a little suspect and over stated. But, hey would a lawyer ever do that?