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‘Hate speech and sexism interrupts every single lesson’: Teachers speak out about growing abuse in classrooms

Teachers standing outside with banners as they call for better pay and for pupil abuse to be addressed
Teachers in Elgin have gone on a pay strike as they call out increased workloads and abuse from pupils. Picture by Jason Hedges

Teachers in Elgin have spoken out about their struggles to cope with abusive pupils while juggling an increased workload and demands for fairer pay.

Members of NASUWT- The Teachers Union gathered at the Eight Acres Hotel during a walkout amidst strike action calling for better salaries.

Fleur Stewart, who teaches modern languages at Elgin Academy, revealed she regularly looks for other jobs after suffering constant physical and verbal abuse from pupils.

She said: “I’ve been hurt by a pupil twice since September. You don’t want to come into work and think you’re going to be in danger at any point, this is not normal.

“The pupils are also getting more vocal, you go to work and get abuse every single day, even for just asking them to remove their jacket.”

Teacher strikers holding up banners and talking amongst themselves
Fleur Stewart standing with Nik James, the head teacher of Fetterangus school to her left and Mike Corbett, NASUWT Teachers Union National Official to her right. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson

Ms Stewart feels pupil abuse has escalated recently following the coronavirus pandemic and access to online content from the likes of controversial figure Andrew Tate.

The former professional kickboxer recently became an online influencer before being banned from Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and TikTok after his remarks on women were deemed unambiguously sexist.

She said: “The young people we’re teaching are very easily influenced, at the moment Andrew Tate (is discussed) in every class.

“The hate speech and sexism interrupts every single lesson and you can’t teach, it’s very difficult.

“When they came back after Covid, we asked them to wear masks, for some of them, there was a lack of structure at home and (it was difficult) to come back to authority.”

‘For the pupils, it’s normal’

Norma Watson, a drama teacher at Elgin High School, has been teaching for almost 40 years and feels the behaviour of pupils has become out of control.

She said: “You hear (pupils say) the phrase ‘you can’t touch me’ most days, I’ve been teaching 39 years, the pendulum has swung so far.

“Last week, a 12-year-old boy walked into his English class, he waited for silence and asked his teacher how many men she’d slept with.

“She was stunned and trying to quickly process how she should deal with this situation, and he went ‘Come on, how many then?’

Nik James, head teacher Fetterangus School, Fleur Stewart teacher of modern languages Elgin Academy, Mike Corbett, national official NASUWT Scotland, Norma Watson, principal teacher of drama at Elgin High School, Sally Lewis ASN teacher, Elgin High School. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson

“For the other pupils, it’s normal because this boy gets away with saying stuff like that all the time, they just giggle and accept that’s happening.”

The teacher was also left horrified after one secondary school pupil demanded she tie her shoe lace for her.

She add: “I’ve got a child in class who came up to me and she just (placed her foot down) and went ‘tie my shoe lace’ she’s 12 or 13 years old.

“We’re now doing everything, parents send them out in the morning like ‘well now that’s your job.'”

‘We don’t just work school hours’

Ms Stewart stressed that on top of not being paid fairly, she often has to work long hours outside of class and prepare more lessons to meet a variety of needs.

She said: “I have a class where I have National 4, National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher pupils all in one class together. That means I have four lessons to prepare for one class.

“I’m supposed to have my Advanced Higher class five times a week, but I only have them three times a week because there’s not enough pupils for a class.

Norma Watson speaking Sally Lewis at the teacher strike in Elginto ASN teacher
Norma Watson, pictured left, standing next to Elgin High School ASN teacher Sally Lewis. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson

“Because I only see them three times a week, we have the same curriculum and I have to prepare an extra two lessons, I have 12 hours extra lessons to prepare every week.

“When you’re at work, you don’t have time to do other work, you come in about an hour early to get your computer on, power-points ready, look at emails, have extra bits for pupils who need more support.

“After school we stay (longer), then we go home, clean, cook dinner, get the kids to bed, then we start our marking work, we don’t just work school hours,” she added.

Mike Corbett, NASUWT national official, said: “Our members would rather be in school working with their pupils, but have had no option but to take this action in order to stand up for their right to a salary which reflects the skilled and difficult work they do.”