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Elwood teacher loses hearing as a result of student outburst

Posted: 5:30 AM, Feb 20, 2020
Updated: 2020-02-20 16:00:05-05
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Call 6 Investigates is digging into the issue of teachers injured in the classroom. For the first time, educators who got hurt are speaking out. Plus, you'll hear from parents whose children have caused injuries at school. This is the first of three stories. Read the second story: 'None of these are bad kids;' Parents explain why student outbursts, teacher injuries are happening | Read the third story: Bill aimed at preventing teacher injuries fails to get a hearing

INDIANAPOLIS — A Call 6 Investigation has uncovered a disturbing reality in Indiana classrooms — teachers hurt on the job by students.

For the first time, teachers are sharing their personal stories of being injured at school.

They say the problem has reached a breaking point— and educator and student safety is at risk.

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TEACHER HANNAH MOODY — 'I never knew it could be this bad'

Hannah Moody’s childhood dream was to teach.

“I always wanted to be a teacher,” Moody said. “I used to teach my little brother. I went to college, and I was super excited for it.”

Moody graduated in May from IU Kokomo with a degree in elementary education and special education, and Elwood Community School Corporation hired her to work as a social/emotional teacher for grades K-2.

"I was very excited,” she said. “I was very looking forward to having my own classroom, and then it all just went downhill."

Moody said one of the students in her classroom at Elwood Elementary was violent.

"It was to the point, where every few minutes, we were dealing with an outburst that resulted in him turning the room upside down," Moody said.

Moody said she and other teachers asked administrators for training to deal with the situation.

“We begged them that we needed to be trained to properly deal with this, because it was just out of control,” Moody said.

Moody said that training didn’t happen, and two weeks into her teaching job, the child was put in a consequence room during an outburst.

“I got a phone call saying I needed to come down because they were taking him down to the consequence room,” Moody said. “I was trying to talk to him through the door.”

The student broke off the door handle and threw it at metal on the door, Moody said.

“Next thing we knew, it sounded like a bomb went off,” Moody said. “My ear was on the other side of the door, and it went straight into my ear.”

Moody suffered 80% hearing loss in her right ear, and now relies on a hearing aid.

She struggles with everyday activities like watching TV and talking on the phone.

“It just sounds muffled,” she said. “It’s completely life-changing and altering. You don’t realize how much you use your hearing until it’s not there anymore.”

Moody said teacher injuries are still a taboo topic.

“There’s this stigma around it, and so many people are afraid to come forward because of blacklisting,” Moody said. “Part of it is, we don’t want to scare teachers away.”

Moody said as she watched the Red for Ed rally in November, she noticed compensation and testing were priorities for educators and lawmakers.

“I’m sitting there watching and I’m like, where is teacher protection in all of this?” said Moody.

PREVIOUS | Teachers go Red For Ed at the statehouse

Moody is taking a new direction with her career and is studying to get her master’s in library science.

She has not returned to the classroom since the injury happened, and Moody now works in a library.

She’s sad to give up her dream.

“It’s heartbreaking and sad, because that’s what I wanted to do,” said Moody. “But to go back in the classroom? I don’t trust anyone, and I don’t trust that I’ll be supported.”

Call 6 Investigates asked to speak with Elwood schools’ Superintendent Joe Brown on camera about teacher injuries, including Hannah Moody’s, and he declined.

Records obtained by Call 6 Investigates show Moody’s incident is one of 14 staff injuries involving Elwood students since the 2017-2018 school year.

Injuries at Elwood schools include a substitute teacher stabbed with a pencil, a school nurse bitten by a student, and a teacher’s aide kicked by a student.

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THE NUMBERS — 'Something has to be done.'

The state of Indiana does not compile data on teacher injuries.

So, Call 6 Investigates filed records requests with two dozen school districts in central Indiana for teacher and staff injuries involving students.

We counted more than 1,590 incidents and found all kinds of injuries — teachers hit, punched, kicked, hair pulled, headbutted and some suffering from concussions.

For example, in Zionsville, an elementary student punched, headbutted and stepped on a teacher, records show.

At Decatur Middle School, a teacher was elbowed in the nose while breaking up a fight.

And at Center Grove, a student punched an administrator in the jaw after she prevented the student from leaving.

In November, we created a teacher survey to learn more about the problem of teacher injuries and nearly 400 teachers responded.

More than half of teachers said they had been hurt on the job, and of those that said yes, half of the injuries were caused by a student.

  • 73 percent of teachers said they had witnessed a student assaulting a teacher or staff member.
  • 75 percent of teachers told RTV6 they have seriously considered leaving the profession.
  • 94 percent of educators believe schools and the legislature need to do more to address teacher safety.

“Those numbers to me are so high, and something has to be done,” Hannah Moody said in response to our findings. “I had an idea this could happen, but I never knew it could be this bad.”

Moody said it is somewhat relieving to know other teachers have experienced classrooms in chaos.

“It makes me feel like it’s not just me,” said Moody. “I feel like this is acknowledging that this is a problem.”

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RETIRED TEACHERS WEIGH IN — 'It’s a no-win for everybody.'

Because many currently employed teachers are not willing or able to talk on camera about this issue, RTV6 asked a group of retired teachers to weigh in.

Carolyn Freeman, Mary Lenglade, and Peggy Schuh have nearly 100 years of combined experience in the classroom.

"I've had children who have thrown things at me, and there were a lot of teachers who were injured by throwing desks at them or kicking them," Freeman said.

Schuh and Lenglade weren’t personally injured while teaching, but they saw and heard things about their colleagues that concerned them.

“There were teachers who have had concussions because one time a student had slung a back pack and hit the teacher in the head and she was out with a concussion," Schuh said.

"There was a fight that broke out in the fifth grade and she went to intercede and another kid threw her to the ground and broke her arm and she was in the cast for three months," Lenglade said. “I feel sorry for the kids, the parents, teachers and administrators. It's a no-win for everybody."

When we asked the group of retired teachers why they think this is happening — their responses were similar.

“The students do not have consequences,” Lenglade said.

“It’s unacceptable behavior,” Freeman said. “There should be consequences for it.”

"The lack of consequences for behavior and also accountability,” Schuh said. “They're in school to learn and if they're not learning or expressing that they've gotten the concepts, they're just moved on from grade to grade."

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EXPERT SAYS ZERO TOLERANCE APPROACHES ARE NOT WORKING

JauNae Hanger is the founder of the Positive School Discipline Institute, a year-long training initiative for school staff to reform disciplinary practices and promote student academic success.

“Most classrooms are safe, but there are some classrooms that have very negative learning environments,” Hanger said. “If the teacher is not safe in the classroom, neither are her students.”

Hanger said when schools take harsh, zero tolerance approaches to student behavior without looking at why a child acts that way, it puts students and staff in harm’s way.

“We need to start getting to the root cause of behavior and start to address those root causes of behavior before they escalate into things we can’t address,” Hanger said. “When we ignore the needs of children and just put zero tolerance and punishment in place, then I think you’re at greater risk of these kinds of interactions occurring.”

PREVIOUS | Discipline disparity impacts black children in Indiana classrooms

Teachers we talked with said large class sizes and lack of school counselors also puts them at a greater risk for injuries.

The Positive School Discipline Institute has trained employees from 54 schools on how to build relationships among teachers, administrators, school police, students and parents. Hanger said the approach can help prevent situations like the one that Hannah Moody went through.

“We need more training,” Hanger said. “Any time you lock a kid in a room, you’re escalating the situation. You’re not calming it down.”

Hanger said it is possible to hold students accountable without harsh punishments like out-of-school suspensions.

“Discipline should be a lesson, a teaching moment, and that can be a way to hold them accountable in a restorative way,” Hanger said. “We’ve got to ask — how do we change the culture in the classroom so that it’s safe for everyone? It’s not by pushing kids out.”

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