What Teachers Can Do When Students Write About Violence

The writings of some students are quite alarming. Some poems or stories submitted by students may raise a red flag that they may be a hazard to themselves or others. It is crucial to immediately notify a school administrator and the guidance counselor when a teacher spots a piece of writing that includes overly realistic violent scenarios. It is also very important to correct writing assignments in a timely manner so problematic writings are turned over to an administrator as rapidly as possible.

The experienced teacher learns to give a subtle warning to students before creative writing assignments to avoid topics that include threats of violence or involve school settings and depictions of violence there. Once students are aware that teachers are mandated to report these types of assignments, most students will carefully avoid touching upon violence in their writings.

  • However, some students seem determined to hand in writings that seem designed to alarm the teacher. Some students may make outright threats to others in their writings, may detail an all too realistic scenario of an attack on a school or classmates, or may write about harming family members or friends.
  • When a teacher encounters this sort of violent writing the first thing to do is to make a copy of the writing. Never hand over the original piece of writing to anyone unless it is requested by the police. Keep the original paper and distribute duplicate copies as needed.
  • Schools sometimes attempt to “cover up” a disturbing threat of violence by a student and they “disappear” the original version of the writing. So keep the original safe.
  • Notify school administrators about the disturbing piece of writing. Put it in their hands personally. Ensure that they have it and do not just toss it in their in-box.Violent writings are urgent problems so hand deliver the memo and the sample of the writing to the administrator so they may take action immediately.
  • Also, hand deliver a memo and the writing sample to the student’s guidance counselor. Ask the guidance counselor to talk to the student that day. Also ask the guidance counselor if there is anything else the teacher should do to handle the situation.
  • Next, call the parents or guardian of the student and inform them of the disturbing writing. Ask them to come in for a parent meeting to discuss the student’s writings and progress in class.
  • At the next class meeting, ask the student to go out to the hallway for a brief conference. Discuss the violence portrayed in the writings and tell the student that you are required to notify administrators and the guidance department.
  • Ask the school psychologist to meet with the student. Give the psychologist the writing sample or describe the violence it depicts.
  • Students sometimes use their writings as a “cry for help.” They may discuss suicide, violence, or wishes to harm other people. The English teacher sometimes feels like a psychologist as he or she reads students' writings. Students sometimes express their deep secrets, goals and dreams in their writings. Too often they also allow violent fantasies or plans to appear in their writings.
  • Be proactive if a student hands in writings with violent scenarios. It is better to be safe than sorry and notify administrators about the alarming writing. Most students are just depicting the violence they see in videos or in movies. However, some students have a more ominous agenda with their violent writings. They may be trying to work out details of future violence they plan to pursue. So let administrators know immediately if a student’s writings alarm you.
  • If the school does not take action to contact the police about any truly disturbing writings, the teacher may always contact the police of their own initiative. Be sure to follow-up with administrators to ask them what action was taken to handle the violence-filled writings.