Do students feel safe in your classroom? Questions like this may evoke images of a school shooting, but there are many other ways that classrooms are not the safe havens they should be for students and teachers alike. Dangers in the physical environment and poor instructional practices all can contribute to a classroom environment where students could be harmed physically and emotionally.
Maintaining classroom safety is one of the most important tasks that any teacher has. After all, the well-being of your students depends on constant diligence. Follow these suggestions to make sure your classroom is secure:
- If possible, teach with your door closed; this will minimize disruptions from outside your classroom.
- Check classroom windows and screens to be sure they are in good working condition.
- Check all electrical outlets. When you do plug in equipment, make sure all cords are secure.
- Keep your classroom as clean as you can to reduce the spread of contagious diseases.
- Use only cleaning supplies that meet your school’s policies and are not harmful to students.
- Don’t keep matches, sharp scissors or other potentially harmful items where your students have access to them.
- Discourage your students from taking items such as staplers from your desk. Instead, provide materials just for their use in another part of the room and teach students to respect your personal property.
- If your classroom is not in use, keep it locked. No room should be left unattended.
- Make it easy for students to move about. Space desks carefully, and don’t block the exits to your classroom.
- Stabilize all bookcases and other tall pieces of equipment so they can’t tip over. Make sure all objects on them are also secured.
- Keep your personal belongings, confidential documents, and any money you collect during the day securely locked out of sight.
- Never give a student a key to your classroom or car.
In addition to making the physical environment of your room safe, it’s also important to pay close attention to the instructional practices that guide the day-to-day activities in your classroom. Here are some suggestions for steps you can take immediately to ensure the safety of your students.
- Learn your school’s procedures for such emergencies as fire drills, disaster drills or intruders in the building.
- Take emergency drills seriously and insist your students do too.
- Remember that younger students usually need to be more closely supervised than older students.
- Be especially diligent when students are working together in activities that require lots of movement.
- Strive to make your classroom as orderly as possible. Teach and enforce your rules and procedures until everyone understands what you expect of them.
- Take a stand against bullying in your classroom. Make it easy for students to talk to you if they are the victims of bullies.
- If you have a student who is aggressive or hostile toward others and you ignore the problem, you have neglected to protect the students who may be assaulted. Be aware of potential problems and, if possible, seek administrative assistance before trouble erupts.
- When students say they are feeling unwell, take the matter seriously.
- Don’t use hard candy as a reward or treat. It is too easy for students to choke on it.
- Never leave students unsupervised, no matter how mature they are. Never.
- When students leave the room with a hall pass, be alert to when they return. You are responsible for their safety.
- Report suspected weapons or potential acts of violence immediately.
- Never embarrass a student in front of his or her peers. Some of the most violent criminal events at schools in recent years have been carried out by students who were not successful academically or socially.
- Be aware of the procedures you are to follow to assist students who have a chronic illness.
- If you suspect that a student has been abused, follow your school’s procedures for handling this without delay.
- Learn about your students’ medical needs and any other special factors that could put them in harm’s way. Take time to go through students’ permanent folders at the start of the term so that you have the knowledge to protect yourself and your students.
- Make it clear that you will not tolerate racial, cultural or other prejudices.
- Make your students aware of the risks involved in some activities. Whether the hazard is from running with scissors or operating equipment in a vocational class, students need to be taught how to avoid possible dangers.
- Design activities with student safety in mind. Consider the potential for danger when you design active classroom games, lab experiments, group activities or competitive events that could quickly get out of control.
- If you suspect that a student is involved in gang activity, you must report your suspicions to an administrator who will, in turn, report it to the local police. Do not attempt to confront suspected gang members on your own.
There's a new school year coming up! Consider this resource for your back to school planning.