A Nurse’s Open Letter to Teachers Everywhere

I probably shouldn’t write this post. It will probably be considered controversial– even though it seems like it shouldn’t. However, I am writing from a place of lessons learned and I want to share those lessons with . . . teachers everywhere.

I was happily reading some on-line celebrity news (as a destressor) when I came across this article about Anthony D’Amico. The article explains that his 2 m/o daughter went in for her regular immunizations and he experienced ” . . . an overwhelming urge to punch out the nurse . . . ” as she was delivering the infant’s shots.

Now, I’m sure, he meant this as a unifying post among parents everywhere– that none of us like to see children experience pain. I get that. As a pediatric nurse, however, I was horrified. His first instinct is not to pick up and comfort his child or say reassuring words, but to injure the nurse providing lifesaving preventative care. I’m sorry . . . that just not cool.

Would it surprise you if I told you that nurses experience the most violence of any profession . . . including police officers? Here’s just one of many articles that eludes to that fact. I first started nursing in 1993. My first job was as an adult ICU nurse. During that first year, an elderly vented patient grabbed my stethoscope that was on my neck and began to choke me with it. I could not break their grip and only when a passing respiratory therapist saw my predicament was I freed from possibly a very serious injury and/or death. Sadly, that’s not been my only incident. Getting cursed or sworn at is common— not rare. I’ve been personally threatened with unwarranted law suits just so I would bend to a family’s demand. I’ve had men raise their fists at me more than once. I’ve seen so much worse happen to other healthcare workers.

When I first started nursing those twenty-six year ago, it was an unwritten expectation that these events were tolerated and nothing happened to the perpetrators. It was, “part of the job”. These “people are sick” and “they don’t know what they’re doing.”

Well, a police officer can still charge a drunk person if that person injures them physically. For decades, a nurse was not permitted to even think this was an option.

Not only do nurses experience violence from patients and their families, but from co-workers as well. In my own state, a hospital close to where I live (I am not employed there) a nurse was nearly strangled to death by a doctor.

Now, that is SLOWLY changing. Hospitals are beginning to see and understand that patients, families, and co-workers should not be allowed to commit violence against nurses (or any healthcare worker) for any excuse or reason. It’s inspired the hashtag #silentnomore.

People should be held accountable for their actions despite being sick, tired, and or frustrated. Change is not a speedy process. Hospitals are balancing employees need for safety and the image they project. It is a complicated issue. Should a nurse be able to involve law enforcement if a mental health patient injures them during a psychotic break? Not an easy answer. And I might add, nurses are reluctant to do so knowing the underlying medical states that drive many of these situations, but they are also so very tired of the violence. This violence contributes to reduced quality of life, PTSD, moral injury, and people leaving the profession.

This is why I write this post. Not for me and my fellow nurses who know this hell that we live in with violence . . . but for the legislators and school administrators who are loosening consequences for students who are defiant, disruptive, and dangerous. I speak specifically of this new law in California that passed the Senate and is moving forward to their assembly.

Interestingly, I couldn’t find much commentary about the CA law except from conservative commentators. Here is one such example. Perhaps it’s because California lawmakers believe that there is bias in how school based punishments are merited out.

I don’t know the veracity of those claims. That’s not the point of this piece because this trend of backing off of student punishments for outrageous classroom behavior is not isolated to one state. Here’s one example from 2002 where a teacher resigned because a Kansas school board wanted her to reverse failing grades for students who had plagiarized. 

I am writing this because when disruptive classroom behavior and even violence is tolerated in schools from children or teens— they eventually become adults and then it becomes a problem for all of us. Ask any pediatric nurse when limits should be set and it starts from the beginning.

At some point we have to set firm and clear boundaries for bad behavior. When did it become reasonably sane to allow anyone to exhibit unruly and/or violent tendencies without consequences? Nurses have known all along that this was insanity and we are suffering from this, but felt powerless to do something about it because it was an expected part of our jobs. Nurses are now collectively saying we can’t live like this anymore.

Teachers . . . unruly and violent behavior should not be tolerated parts of your job. If we say to students that there is “zero tolerance” for violence and bullying then how can we allow it to happen to another one of our most trusted professions? The issue is, the behaviors before violence need to first be curbed. Kids know what boundaries are– their job is to test crossing them. Now the boundary is moving to allow more egregious behavior from students toward their teachers.

This is healthy?

So from this nurse to teachers everywhere– please fight to uphold the standards of behavior you expect in the classroom. Don’t give an inch. It could be your life that is at stake.

If anything, please learn from this nurse’s storyOr this nurse’s story. Need another one? Or this? Maybe her story will change your mind.

Hold the line in the classroom . . . hold the line for all of us.

3 thoughts on “A Nurse’s Open Letter to Teachers Everywhere

  1. Beautifully written Jordyn! Love that! I will definitely share this! I also love that our Hospital (one of the first in the nation) has set up and running De-Escalation Training throughout the Organisation and ensuring that Codes of Behaviour is set up at every stage of their progress throughout the Hospital Journey whether it be just the UC, or through admission and the clinics! I definitely feel all this has contributed to the level of violence that we are seeing been taken out on Schools, Churches etc – the boundaries and just plain respect for the life of others has totally been eroded! 😥 I feel there is a total lack of accountability that is just not being taught at an early age and yes, us Peds Nurses see it frequently!

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  2. As a teacher, I can certainly sympathise with you – we, too, experience nasty stuff – and dear me, they are preventing schools from suspending kids for bad behaviour? Here, we aren’t allowed to expel them in the state system unless they pretty much commit murder and even then we have to provide them with schoolwork to do… But kids do get suspended, even if it’s only two or three days. Private schools, of course, get to kick them out for talking in class!

    Perhaps, though, you should be appealing to the school system to keep the kids in line rather than the teachers, who are in a similar situation to you, and put back suspension. Or families. Schools and teachers generally do their best, but in the end, if the kids have problems at home, they will bring them to school, and there is only so much you are allowed to do. That Dad who wanted to punch the nurse is not helpful!

    I should say, your schools seem to be a lot more privatised than ours. I’m sorry about that.

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