What To Do If Attacked By A Student

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According to the American Psychological Association, 44 percent of teachers report being physically attacked by a student.

And this was before the pandemic and return to in-person learning.

Pull aside any honest administrator and they’ll tell you that violence and aggression are up since the start of the school year.

The key to tamping it down is how we recommend managing behavior here at SCM.

Our approach to classroom management lowers tension, builds trusting rapport, and empowers students to take responsibility. The result is a calm and happy classroom that allows teachers and students to feel safe.

It’s also smart, however, to try never to put yourself in harm’s way by . . .

Knowing where every student is from moment to moment.

Maintaining wall-to-wall awareness.

Keeping your cool and never creating friction with students.

Surveying your environment every few seconds.

Keeping your back nearest to one wall as often as possible.

Being cautious (and reluctant) about kneeling down to help students.

Maintaining distance from students as your default position.

Never getting in the face of a student to scold, lecture, question, etc.

But what if the unthinkable happens? What if you let your guard down for just a moment and find yourself in a struggle for your life?

If attacked by a student, there are two places you must be to stay safe. Only two. The first is beyond striking distance. Meaning, out of range of your attacker.

Move, run, scramble, and get away as fast as you can to the safety of another classroom or adjacent office.

This is the best option. If they can’t touch you, they can’t hurt you. If you can’t get out of your room right away, then get a piece of furniture between you and them to maintain distance.

Deescalate by talking in a calming voice while moving toward the door and asking students to go and get help. If they’re not keen on helping, then you yell. As loud as you can.

The second safest place may sound strange, but it can save your life.

It’s definitely counterintuitive. But if a student is on you before you have time to escape, it’s your only good option. Before we get there, however, it’s important to mention where you should never be:

Within the one to six foot zone that is the attacker’s striking distance. It is here that you will suffer the greatest amount of injury and physical damage. It is here that is extremely dangerous.

It’s also the place most people without realistic self-defense training stay in to try to ward off an attack.

So what happens if a student closes on you and into your danger zone while throwing violent punches and/or kicks? So fast that you can’t get away?

You close on them.

That’s right. I know it may sound crazy, but if you can get inside (and thus beyond) the danger zone and bear hug the student—which is easier than it seems—then you can stay relatively safe. Any damage you suffer will be minimized.

Of course, if the student is a lot smaller and weaker and you’re able to use your hands to keep them away, then do so. But if they’re larger, perhaps a lot larger, a bear hug done in a certain way can keep you protected.

Practically, what you would do the moment you realize you can’t get away is cover your forehead with your hands and, while peeking between your elbows pointed to the front, crash right into their chest.

That’s right, you’ll move forward instead of back.

As soon as you make contact, wrap your arms around them, grip one hand around your opposite wrist (in a monkey grip), place your ear tight to their chest, and hang on tight. If you fall to the ground and they wind up on top of you, which is likely, adjust your arms around their neck and upper body and wrap your legs around them also.

Just hand on and try to remain calm. Ask students to go get help. (Be sure to know exactly where to send them.) Breathe and hold on until help arrives or you can get away by abruptly pushing off of them and out the other side of the danger zone.

This technique, which virtually anyone can do, is proven to work—even if the student is bigger and stronger than you.

Yes, it’s a last option. Yes, you may get injured. But you’ll avoid taking hard shots to the head and body. You’ll avoid getting knocked out. You’ll avoid serious injury and be able to go home that night to your family.

You’ll also avoid injuring the student.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a third option, which is to do some punching and kicking of your own. You do have a right to defend yourself, but the stakes are enormously high and a good outcome is unlikely.

Either they will be injured or you will. It will also encourage other students to jump in. You’ll lose your job and need a good lawyer. To me, this isn’t an option unless my life is at stake and options one and two are off the table.

You may have lots of questions. I know this is a tough topic to consider, and so easy to sweep under the rug. But it’s important to get it out in the open. It could save your life and a lifetime of regret.

Please leave me any questions you have in the comment section below, and I’ll try to cover them in a Facebook video on Monday.

I’m also going to include as part of the video a demonstration of the bear hug and how to practice it on your own. Please check it out. In the meantime, here is a video of the technique (beginning at the 50:00 mark) taught by experts.

I’ll be taking next week off for Thanksgiving but will be back with a new article on December 4th.

Have a safe and wonderful holiday!


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