Bullying in teaching
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 to children 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."
While teacher bullying is recognized as serious and harmful, there are no statistics on either teachers bullying others or teachers being bullied. However, according to one article, a high percentage of teachers admit to bullying students.
- 15.5% of teachers stating they were currently being bullied
- 35.4% saying they had been bullied over the last five years.
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, children and parents are reluctant to report. There are specific signs that parents should watch for as their child is unlikely to disclose that the teacher is in fact the bully.
Furthermore, a teacher who bullies may present as a Jekyll and Hyde figure: he or she is often celebrated and popular so their abuse can go on for long periods of time undetected. 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.
In a school setting, this is true for teachers in the classroom as well as in their role as coaches of school sports.
- teachers may be bullied by: other teachers, students, office staff, principals, school governors and/or parents
- teachers may bully: other teachers, students and/or parents
- bullying teachers may themselves get bullied by others in turn
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. Bullying by teachers can take many forms in order to harass and intimidate including:
- yelling, especially in close proximity to the child
- using homophobic, misogynistic, racial slurs, or direct personal attacks, comments targeting a child's disability or difference
- throwing objects
- expressing disgust at the child through gestures or facial expressions
- muttering obscenities so only the targeted child or children hear
- face-to-face confrontation
- cyber-bullying (including the use of text messaging or social networking sites).
- criticising their work
- making unreasonable demands on workload (see setting up to fail)
- sarcasm and jokes aimed at the victim
- undermining them by over-ruling their decisions and views.
In some cases, teachers are ignored and isolated by colleagues in the staffroom or turned down for promotion or training courses (see silent treatment). Other times, teachers are ostracized as whistleblowers when they report to administrators on students' reports of bullying being done by their colleagues.
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
- low self-esteem
- addictions to alcohol and drugs
- eating disorders
- long-term health consequences
- brain injury
The possible impacts of bullying of teachers include:
- victimisation and victim blaming
- false accusations and fabricated formal disciplinary action
- stress symptoms such as anxiety, headaches, nausea, palpitations, and hypertension
- symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) such as a compromised immune system, sleep problems, excessive guilt, irritability, hypervigilance (which feels like paranoia, but is not), constant anxiety, reactive depression and suicidal thoughts
- loss of self-esteem
- loss of job
In April 2012, Stuart Chaifetz, a father of an autistic boy, released a video on YouTube 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. 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." However, it appears that students with learning disabilities may be especially at risk for teacher bullying.
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, as well as a CTV W5 episode. The story was the catalyst for a book, Teaching Bullies: Zero Tolerance on the Court or in the Classroom by Jennifer Fraser, PhD. Fraser's 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 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.
In popular culture
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.
- 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, Andrew Neiman is bullied by his abusive teacher Terence Fletcher.
- 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.
- 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 jealous substitute teacher, Miss Cantwell.
- Later in episode Blazed and Confused, Bart is bullied by his cruel and sadistic new teacher, Mr. Jack Lassen, who shaves off the boy's hair in class.
- Grange Hill (season four, episode four) Christopher Stewart is bullied by P.E. teacher Mr. Hicks, to the point of physical injury.
- "The Happiest Days of Our Lives" by Pink Floyd – song about abusive teachers who are themselves abused by their wives at home.
- Personality disorders
- School bullying
- School violence
- Sexual harassment in education
- Sexual harassment and abuse of students by teachers
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