Responding to a Student Altercation

Unfortunately in middle and high schools, fights are an all-too-common problem. Hopefully you will never find yourself in a situation where you must break up a student altercation, but as a substitute teacher, it is your responsibility to know what to do if the situation presents itself.

Many times, a student fight will be premeditated and will stem from some other minor incident like verbal harassment, bullying, or taunting. The easiest way to stop a fight is to be cognizant of these contributing issues. If you notice two or more students who appear agitated – even if they are not necessarily being physical with each other – alert a school administrator. He may be aware of previous issues between these students and will be able to adequately address the situation. If you hear of a fight that is planned sometime during the day, don’t wait to tell someone. Rumors have a way of accelerating the timeline for a fight and you don’t want wait to tell someone only to learn that the fight already occurred.

If you witness a fight that is in progress, do not put yourself in harm’s way. While the temptation may be strong to get in the middle of the two students, this will only escalate the situation – both for you and the student. You may be liable if a student is injured as a result of your actions, and you could be hurt as well. Many times, just an adult presence and a stern voice will be enough to break up the fight. If this doesn’t work, ask another teacher to immediately call the main office and request help.

After the altercation ends, do your best to assess the situation. If a student is laying down and unable to get up, or you suspect serious physical injury, call the main office or the nurse immediately. This level of physical altercation is rare. If possible, separate the two students who fought. Take one student and ask another teacher nearby to take the other. This will avoid a rekindling in the hallway. If a student appears injured, take him to the nurse. Otherwise, deliver the student to the administrator.

The administrator will likely ask you about what you saw. This will help him in his investigation. Be alert to other students who may have witnessed the event as well. It is particularly helpful when those students are unconnected to the altercation as they can provide an unbiased perspective.

As teachers, it is our professional responsibility to keep students safe while at school. Knowing the warning signs of a fight and what to do when one happens could potentially avoid serious injury to yourself or one of your students. For more classroom management tips and ways to be a better substitute, contact us!

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