Abusive teachers raise questions about Lithuanian schools 

Two Lithuanian schools recently made headlines when parents complained of teachers being verbally abusive to pupils.

Daiva Repeckaite
Daiva Repeckaite NewsMavens, Lithuania
Abusive teachers raise questions about Lithuanian schools  - NewsMavens
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Why this story matters:

Two female teachers are under investigation in Lithuania for being verbally abusive to their pupils. Both schools are in small towns and there are grounds to suspect that these are not isolated cases, but are rather the symptoms of changing demographics combined with deep-seated flaws in the educational system.

Lithuanian towns have been losing residents since industries started collapsing in the 1990s. The Soviet policy of appointing recent graduates to their first jobs sent many educated young people to the countryside, but nowadays there are few incentives that would bring educated urbanites to small towns.

Despite the success of initiatives like Renkuosi mokyti ("I choose to teach"), which sends young graduates to schools, teachers outside the main cities tend to be older, low paid and overwhelmed by the growing pressure to apply new methods, shed authoritarian teaching practices, and learn to deal with helicopter parents.

Lithuania has also been moving away from the policy of segregating pupils with special needs, but these pupils do not receive dedicated assistants, and teachers are left alone to deal with behavioral issues in the classroom.

The school in Žiežmariai, for example, is entitled to 1.25 full-time equivalent social worker/ psychologist, yet with the funding it receives, it can only employ one at 0.75 FTE. As a rule, teachers tend to be female (see an analysis of a recent teachers' strike here), and their anger management issues are therefore being interpreted in a gendered way. Of course, none of this justifies abusive behavior against pupils and mistaking their complex conditions (e.g. hyperactivity) for having a "bad character", as has traditionally been the case.

This is why the experts who investigated the Žiežmariai case are creating an important precedent by focusing on the administration and identifying what could have been done to ameliorate the situation. For the government, too, these cases can serve as reminders that "optimizing" the number and salaries of teachers, social workers and special-needs assistants in the countryside only ends in very sub-optimal results for everyone.

Details from the story:

  • Journalists of the 15min portal reported parental complaints about the alleged aggressive behavior of a teacher at Balys Buračas high school in a small town.
  • The teacher called in sick after hearing that she was being investigated. According to the school principal, the teacher is a sensitive person with a health condition that makes her voice sound high-pitched, which is often misinterpreted. The teacher, according to the principal, feels very anxious about being investigated, her blood pressure shot up and she went on sick leave for two weeks. Eventually she resigned from her job.
  • The parents allege that the teacher has been verbally and even physically aggressive against pupils in her class, and mishandled situations involving pupils with special needs. The administration, according to the parents, has not handled the situation properly, so they have submitted complaints to child welfare authorities and the police.
  • Earlier, a teacher was recorded shouting at pupils in a Lithuanian language class in the town of Žiežmariai. An expert group investigated their behavior and found that the administrationwas to blame for the "lack of dialogue" between parents and teachers, and for not taking complaints seriously. This teacher, too, called in sick following the complaints, and the administration reported that she was mentally exhausted.
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