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Are My Classroom Rules Paranoid?
Q: I was advised to read your book, The Gift of Fear, after I was kidnapped at gunpoint and raped by three strangers, one of whom was 19.
I wish I knew about your book before that horrible summer. Since the attack, I've become a high school teacher and one of my class rules is that all students must place their bookbags against the rear wall. I don't let them keep their bags beside their seats. My reasoning, as I told all my classes, is to keep aisles free of obstacles in case of emergency as well as a safety precaution for normal movement. I also told them it was because I didn't know what each kid brought to school and I wanted to lessen the chance of having a weapon brought out in class.
I don't want to make my kids to think that I don't trust them and that I assume the worst about them, nor do I want to create a negative atmosphere in my class. Am I being too paranoid?
A: You're not paranoid. You're probably just having a natural reaction to your past experience but I don't think you're reacting to an actual risk. While the book bag rule may lessen your anxiety, I don't think it's necessary, and wouldn't be effective in any event. And, yes, it sends a negative message to your students.
Your rule is also serving as a constant reminder to you of your own anxiety about your attack. Frightening news stories aside, school is still one of the safest places people can ever go. It may be a great lesson to your students if you put an end to the rule and told them you were probably reacting to a violent experience you suffered.
Whatever you do, be sure to give yourself some understanding. You have survived your experience, but full recovery takes time.
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Gavin de Becker is widely regarded as the leading U.S. expert on the prediction and management of violence. His work has earned him three Presidential appointments and a position on a congressional committee. He is currently co-chair of the Domestic Violence Council Advisory Board, and a Senior Fellow at the UCLA School of Public Policy.