Bullying in teaching

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This article concerns teacher-related bullying at school. For bullying involving lecturers in higher education, see Bullying in academia.

School teachers are commonly the subject of bullying but they are also sometimes the originators of bullying within a school environment. When an adult bullies a child, it is referred to as psychological, emotional or verbal abuse. According to the American Psychological Association, it is as harmful as sexual or physical abuse. "Children who are emotionally abused and neglected face similar and sometimes worse mental health problems as children who are physically or sexually abused, yet psychological abuse is rarely addressed in prevention programs or in treating victims, according to a new study published by the American Psychological Association."[1]

While sexual and physical abuse by an adult to child, parent, teacher or coach, is criminal in the eyes of the law, bullying or emotional abuse by these adults in care-giver positions is not.

Due to their influential role, it is possible that teachers are instrumental in teaching bullying. At present there is little to no research to confirm this.[2]


While teacher bullying is recognized as serious and harmful, there are no statistics.[3] However, according to one article, a high-percentage of teachers admit to bullying students.[4]

Comprehensive research carried out in the UK found that teaching was one of the occupations at highest risk from bullying:[5]

  • 15.5% of teachers stating they were currently being bullied
  • 35.4% saying they had been bullied over the last five years.

In another survey, the Economic and Social Research Institute found bullying to be more prevalent in schools (13.8pc) than other workplaces (7.9pc).[6]

Complex dynamics[edit]

There are complex issues with reporting bullying by teachers, not only for children, but also parents. By means of their position of power over the child, power that enables them to impact the child's present and future,[7] children and parents are reluctant to report.[8] There are specific signs that parents should watch for as their child is unlikely to disclose that the teacher is in fact the bully.[9]

Furthermore, a teacher who bullies may present as a Jekyll and Hyde figure: they are often celebrated and popular so their abuse can go on for long periods of time undetected.[10] Lacking research on teachers in classrooms, once again it is hard to be sure, but certainly in teaching a sport, we see adults often rewarded for bullying conduct that would never be tolerated or condoned if done by a child.[11]

In a school setting, this is true for teachers in the classroom as well as in their role as coaches of school sports.

Parsons identifies teacher bullying as often being part of a wider bullying culture within a school, with a complex web of dynamics such as:[12]

  • teachers may be bullied by: other teachers, students,[13] office staff, principals,[14] school governors and/or parents
  • teachers may bully: other teachers, students[15] and/or parents
  • bullying teachers may themselves get bullied by others in turn

Staffroom bullying[edit]

A common manifestation of teacher bullying is staffroom bullying where teachers are bullied by other teachers or school managers.[6][16][17][18][19][20]


In investigating Teacher Bullying, it is important to differentiate a teacher or coach who is demanding versus one who is demeaning. So "yelling" for instance can be highly productive and motivating, but if it involves belittling and is laced with putdowns and swearing, it becomes abusive.[21] Bullying by teachers can take many forms in order to harass and intimidate including:

  • swearing
  • yelling, especially in close proximity to the child, or up in their face
  • using homophobic, misogynistic,[22] racial slurs, or direct personal attacks, comments targeting a child's disability or difference
  • humiliating
  • berating
  • ignoring
  • shunning
  • throwing objects
  • raging
  • expressing disgust at the child through gestures or facial expressions
  • muttering obscenities so only the targeted child or children hear [1]

Bullying of teachers can take many forms in order to harass and intimidate including:[23]

Bullies often exploit positions of seniority over the colleagues they are intimidating (see rankism) by:[23]

In some cases, teachers are ignored and isolated by colleagues in the staffroom or turned down for promotion or training courses (see silent treatment).[23] Other times, teachers are ostracized as whistleblowers when they report to administrators on students' reports of bullying being done by their colleagues.[24]


Notably, there is little to no research on teachers bullying students. The power imbalance of teacher to student is greater than peer to peer and may well intensify the impact. Studies of child to child bullying, or parent to child bullying, for the present, must be extrapolated to consider the possible impacts of bullying by teachers which include:

  • anxiety, depression, panic disorder[25]
  • self-harm[26]
  • low self-esteem[27]
  • addictions to alcohol and drugs[28]
  • eating disorders[29][30]
  • long-term health consequences[31]
  • brain injury[32] [33]
  • suicide [2]

The possible impacts of bullying of teachers include:

Notable incidents[edit]

In April 2012, Stuart Chaifetz, a father of an autistic boy, released a video on YouTube[35] providing evidence that his son was allegedly the subject of emotional abuse at the hands of his teacher and aide at Horace Mann Elementary School, in the Cherry Hill Public Schools district.[36] The evidence was secured when Chaifetz wired his son before sending him to school. When he listened to the audio recording, according to one news report, "Chaifetz says he caught his son's teachers gossiping, talking about alcohol and violently yelling at students. He took the audio to the Cherry Hill School District, where officials fired one of the teachers involved after hearing the tape. Chaifetz's son was relocated to a new school, where Chaifetz says he is doing well."[37][38] However, it appears that students with learning disabilities may be especially at risk for teacher bullying.[39]

In 2011, select members of the Board, the Chaplain and Headmaster at St. Michaels University School were informed that teachers were abusing students in the basketball program. They received an eleven page document written by a lawyer, who was also a parent of a student at the school, outlining the incidences of "child abuse" occurring on basketball teams at the Senior School. Parents were not informed; teachers remained in position. Although not knowing about this document, throughout the year, at least five families made significant formal complaints to Board members, the Chaplain and Headmaster about the abusive coaching conduct. In 2012, at least thirteen students, at the request of the Headmaster, approved of detailed, written testimonies about the verbal, emotional and some physical abuse they were suffering at the hands of their teachers who were coaching them as a co-curricular.

How they were treated by the Headmaster, the school's Board of Governors, lawyers hired by the school, and educational authorities was the subject of a front-page story by award-winning investigative journalist, Robert Cribb[40], as well as a CTV W5 episode.[41] The story was the catalyst for a book, Teaching Bullies: Zero Tolerance on the Court or in the Classroom by Jennifer Fraser, PhD.[42] Fraser book puts the story in the context of extensive research into the work of psychologists, psychiatrists, and neuroscientists in order to explore the oftentimes taboo subject of Teacher and Coach Bullying.

Informed by research into the serious, extensive, and often irreparable damage to adolescent brains in particular, Fraser has launched an awareness campaign on FaceBook[43] and Twitter (@teachingbullies) in an attempt to get lawmakers to put emotional abuse into the criminal code along with sexual and physical abuse. Neuroscientists believe it does similar if not identical harm to developing brains.

In June 2014, Britain proposed the "Cinderella Law" which would put emotional abuse in the Criminal Code.[44]

  1. ^ "Childhood Psychological Abuse as Harmful as Sexual or Physical Abuse". http://www.apa.org. Retrieved 2015-11-28. 
  2. ^ "Are We Genetically Programmed to Bully?". Kids in the House. https://plus.google.com/+Kidsinthehouse/. Retrieved 2015-11-29. 
  3. ^ "Bullying Teachers | Bullying Statistics". www.bullyingstatistics.org. Retrieved 2015-11-28. 
  4. ^ "Teachers Bullying Students|No Bullying|Anti Bullying Help Center". nobullying.com (in en-US). Retrieved 2015-11-28. 
  5. ^ Hoel, H. & Cooper, C.L. Destructive Conflict and Bullying at Work, Sponsored by the British Occupational Health Research Foundation, Manchester School of Management, UMIST (2000)
  6. ^ a b c BULLYING in the staffroom is having a deeply traumatic effect on some teachers and their families, new research reveals. Irish Independent April 14, 2009
  7. ^ "Teaching Bullies". Ginger Kadlec: BeAKidsHero™ (in en-US). Retrieved 2015-11-29. 
  8. ^ "Why don’t kids speak up about bullying?". The Edvocate. Retrieved 2015-11-29. 
  9. ^ "10 Signs That Your Child's Teacher or Coach May Be a Bully". Healing Walls (in en-US). Retrieved 2015-11-29. 
  10. ^ PhD, Jennifer Fraser. "Recognizing the Abusive Coach as Jekyll and Hyde". Teaching Bullies. Retrieved 2015-11-29. 
  11. ^ "Rewarding Adults Who Bully". Kids in the House. https://plus.google.com/+Kidsinthehouse/. Retrieved 2015-11-29. 
  12. ^ a b c Parsons L Bullied Teacher, Bullied Student: How to Recognize the Bullying Culture in Your School and What to Do About It (2005)
  13. ^ Terry, AA (1998). "Teachers as targets of bullying by their pupils : a study to investigate incidence". British Journal of Educational Psychology 68 (2): 255–268. doi:10.1111/j.2044-8279.1998.tb01288.x. 
  14. ^ de Wet C The Reasons for and the Impact of Principal-on-Teacher Bullying on the Victims' Private and Professional Lives - Teaching and Teacher Education: An International Journal of Research and Studies, Vol 26 No 7 Pages 1450-1459 Oct 2010
  15. ^ McEvoy A Teachers Who Bully Students: Patterns and Policy Implications - Hamilton Fish Institute’s Persistently Safe Schools Conference, Philadelphia, September 11-14, 2005
  16. ^ a b c Field T Staffroom bullying The Times Educational Supplement (TES) Magazine 21 June 2002
  17. ^ Strickland S Bullies in the staff room The Independent 23 November 1995
  18. ^ Dean C Call to beat the staffroom bullies The Times Educational Supplement (TES) 16 April 2004
  19. ^ Being bullied in the staffroom BBC News 20 November 2006
  20. ^ McCall B Staffroom suffering Education Guardian, 20 November 2006
  21. ^ "Abuse or motivation? I know it when I see it. Do you? By Matt Davidson, Ph.D., President, Institute for Excellence & Ethics (IEE)". EXCELLENCE & ETHICS (in en-US). Retrieved 2015-11-29. 
  22. ^ "The use of homophobic slurs in sports: It’s for the athletes’ own good, right?". The Edvocate. Retrieved 2015-11-29. 
  23. ^ a b c Lepkowska D The shocking stories of teacher-on-teacher bullying Secondary Education News (SecEd) 11 Nov 2010
  24. ^ Cribb, Robert (2015-04-02). "Jennifer Fraser says she left because of a “hostile, humiliating, poisoned or intolerable work environment,” created after she complained her son was being abused by teacher coaches. The school says allegations have no basis.". The Toronto Star. ISSN 0319-0781. Retrieved 2015-11-28. 
  25. ^ "ADult psychiatric outcomes of bullying and being bullied by peers in childhood and adolescence". JAMA Psychiatry 70 (4): 419–426. 2013-04-01. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2013.504. ISSN 2168-622X. PMC 3618584. PMID 23426798. 
  26. ^ "Being Bullied Increases Likelihood of Self-Harm". Psych Central.com. Retrieved 2015-11-28. 
  27. ^ "Bullies Beat Down Self Esteem". HealthyChildren.org. Retrieved 2015-11-28. 
  28. ^ "Illuminating the relationship between bullying and substance use among middle and high school youth". linkinghub.elsevier.com. Retrieved 2015-11-28. 
  29. ^ "Study finds surprising links between bullies and eating disorders - Duke Medicine". corporate.dukemedicine.org. Retrieved 2015-11-28. 
  30. ^ "Bullying and Body Image: How Bullying Leads to Eating Disorders". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 2015-11-28. 
  31. ^ "Bullying May Have Long-Term Health Consequences - Duke Medicine". corporate.dukemedicine.org. Retrieved 2015-11-28. 
  32. ^ "What Neuroscience Reveals About Bullying by Educators". Edutopia. Retrieved 2015-11-28. 
  33. ^ "#Teachers & #YouthSports Coaches #Bullying Students? #EndBullying - Parenting Talk - Parenting Community". ourmomspot.net (in en-US). Retrieved 2015-11-28. 
  34. ^ Munday K The Bullying of Teachers Through the Use of Formal Disciplinary Procedures 2003
  35. ^ "Teacher/Bully: How My Son Was Humiliated and Tormented by his Teacher and Aide", Stuart Chaifetz, video at YouTube, posted April 20, 2012
  36. ^ Horace Mann Elementary School website
  37. ^ NJ Father Records Teachers Bullying His Autistic Child, MyFoxPhilly.com
  38. ^ "Verbal abuse of autistic student sparks calls for reform", Jim Walsh and Phil Dunn, Cherry Hill Courier-Post, reprinted at USA Today website, 29 April 2012
  39. ^ "Students with Learning Disabilities at Risk for Teacher Bullying". Kids in the House. https://plus.google.com/+Kidsinthehouse/. Retrieved 2015-11-29. 
  40. ^ Cribb, Robert (2015-03-14). "In 2012, students at St. Michael’s University School in Victoria — where Steve Nash played basketball — began alleging emotional abuse and humiliation. Did teachers’ behaviour go beyond aggressive coaching?". The Toronto Star. ISSN 0319-0781. Retrieved 2015-11-28. 
  41. ^ "Google". www.google.ca. Retrieved 2015-11-28. 
  42. ^ PhD, Jennifer M. Fraser (2015-08-08). Teaching Bullies: Zero Tolerance in the Court or in the Classroom (First edition ed.). Motion Press. ISBN 9780994082022. 
  43. ^ "Teaching Bullies". www.facebook.com. Retrieved 2015-11-28. 
  44. ^ "Should Emotional Abuse Be Criminalized?". www.hautlife.com. Retrieved 2015-11-28. 

In popular culture[edit]

Teachers being portrayed as bullies have made into popular culture, along with works with teachers being bullied by other teachers, students, and even the principal.

  • Films
    • Kids in America, a group of students with help from some teachers tries to stop their bully of a principal from becoming Superintendent, realizing the harm she can cause
    • The Nutty Professor, The School Bully bullies the Professor
    • Matilda, based on the novel of the same name, a student with psychokinesis helps her fellow students and a teacher to stop a cruel principal's reign of terror in the school.
    • The Breakfast Club, Principal Vernon is often seen as a bully to the students serving detention.
    • Mr. Woodcock, the film focuses on a man who is outraged that his former gym teacher, who bullied him and his classmates, is about to become his stepfather.
    • A Little Princess, the main character is the target of a corrupt principal at a boarding school.
    • The 400 Blows, Antoine Doinel is tormented by his insensitive teacher Guy Decomble.
    • Whiplash http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2582802/, Miles Teller is bullied by his abusive teacher J. K. Simmons[1]
  • Books
    • The Harry Potter series features bullying teachers, mainly Severus Snape and Dolores Umbridge.
    • British girls' comics often published bullying teachers and principals in serials and regular strips. Examples can be found in Wee Sue, The Girls of Liberty Lodge and The Four Friends at Spartan School, (Tammy), and Hard Times for Helen (Judy). Patsy and the Beast of Banchester (June) reversed the trend to show a teacher being bullied by toughs in her class.
  • TV
    • iCarly, there have been episodes, like "IHave My Principals", where Ms. Francine Briggs and Mr. Howard clearly bully students, including the main characters, one of whom, Sam, is a bully herself. Mr. Devlin and Lauren Ackerman also bullied the students.
    • Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide, Mr. Sweeney, a science teacher, appears to be evil until the third season, where he appears to reform himself to the point of saving his students from Vice Principal Harvey Crubbs, who also bullies the students, mainly the main characters.
    • Glee, Coach Bieste is bullied by staff, including Sue Sylvester and students.
    • Home and Away, Casey Braxton is bullied by Mr Dave Townsend in Summer Bay High.
    • The Simpsons episode, Black Eyed, Please, Lisa is bullied by a substitute teacher, Miss Cantwell.
    • Grange Hill (season four, episode four) Christopher Stewart is bullied by P.E. teacher Mr. Hicks, to the point of physical injury.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ PhD, Jennifer Fraser. "Whiplash: Drum Solo versus Suicide". Teaching Bullies. Retrieved 2015-11-29. 

Further reading[edit]


Academic papers

External links[edit]