Friday, November 23, 2012

The Bullying Teacher:Can the Damage They Cause Be Fixed?

My car was hit the other day. I'm not worried about it. I was fine. My insurance will cover the damages and my car will be fixed.

The damage to my car caused an "education connection". It made me think about that kid who is being bullied by their teacher or teachers and no one knows. We have all seen videos of the extreme cases where teachers are bullying kids.

But what about the student who is bullied every day and it's not recorded? These poor kids are subject to whatever abuse that the small minded,big bully, teacher can throw at them.

I knew a team of bullying teachers. You know how it is when a group of students seem to feed off each other? That's what it was like with these teachers. They would sit around the table like witches around a cauldron, their mean-spiritedness providing the ingredients for their potion of mean. They would discuss how they would treat particular students,(You know bullies always know who to pick on), with unbelievable relish. They didn't hit them, or get in their face, they were just mean. It seemed like they were vying with each other to see who could make that child's life more miserable.

Their poor students couldn't catch a break, because whatever class they were switched to, that team teacher was ready to dish out her own brand of bully. The sad part was that when one of the teachers was replaced in the hope of breaking up the Bully Dream Team, the replacement seemed to drink from the Kool-Aid.

The parents would complain. Teachers would complain, but nothing really seemed to change.

Teachers bully. I am sure you know one, two, or three. It doesn't have to be physical, it doesn't have to be that intense. But that day in, day out, ridicule, non-supportive, demeaning attitude can damage a child. It can leave them feeling powerless, hopeless, and suffering from low self-esteem. Can the damage be fixed? Do these students carry that scar around with them forever? Does it become baggage, hidden away , but heavy nonetheless?

What can we do when our colleagues are bullies? What can we do to prevent the damage that may be done to our students?


  1. I am a special education teacher and I worked in a class with a bully teacher. It is hard! You don't want to completely undermine them in front of the class because they are still hers the remainder of the year, but you don't want to see it continue. I went to my administrator, who was aware, but never did anything. So I tried to become a safe haven for the two boys in her class that she picked on all the time (she would even get other students involve!!!!). Wen I went in, I went straight to those boys, even though they weren't the ones on my caseload, made sure they had the helped the needed, tried to create relationships with them outside of class(one started coming to my class at the end of the day to pick up comic books to take home).

    1. Thank you for being the teacher they could turn to. It is so frustrating when there's only so much you can do!

  2. Hey Lisa!

    Chicken or Egg - I'll be the first one to admit, my nine-year-old CHATTY daughter isn't perfect. Her 'cute and endearing' charm wears quickly now; the older she gets, the less cute and endearing her ENDLESS chatting before, during and after class becomes.

    I picked her up from school on Friday as I do each day. There was a new 'supply' teacher this day. When he saw my daughter running to me he called out from his doorway, "Are you Ambrosia's dad?" Intuitively, I *KNEW* what was coming next - I've heard that 'tone' before. It's commonly known as the "Sandwich technique" - two slices of white bread (kindness and compliments) and a huge slab of bologna in the middle!

    When my wife got home from work that night, we had yet ANOTHER discussion with Ambrosia about her endless chatty behavior. Just the week before, we had our parent/teacher conference with her regular classroom teacher. He is new to our school this year and already our child has worn him down!

    Now I'm not about defending teachers and especially TEAM BULLYING! But I have a VERY GOOD IDEA about where it might come from. My daughter, because she is an UNCONTROLLABLE CHATTER BOX anywhere she goes now has a GROWING BULLSEYE TARGET on her back. Some nights my wife and I have to play 'Tag-Team' just to relieve each other as we try to help her focus through eating, bathing and homework!

    At least at home, my wife and I have the numbers in our favor - we're two adults against one uncontrollably mouthy child - and it can be frustrating as heck to get the message through. She needs to know that at 9 years old, endless, mindless chatter just ain't cute no more! It's seriously affecting her school work; and it's seriously affecting the way the teachers at her school perceive and interact with her!

    Again, I will NEVER condone teacher team bullying... but I DO understand how easily it can develop! I just think it's important to talk about ALL SIDES of this equation.

    All the best from Toronto,

    1. But Russ, as chatty as your daughter is, would you expect the teachers to be mean to her? I don't mean discipline her, ask her to be quiet, and maybe even move her desk, but be mean to her? A day in/day out kind of mean? I don't think that would be ok in any situation.

    2. Thanks Russ. It's a shame that the cogs of our bureaucratic school system grind away and often pit teacher against student. I've had endless chatterboxes and they drive me crazy while trying to teach even though I'd probably love spending time, one on one with them. I've had my share of bullying accusations and I don't believe I'm a bully. I am one person with 35 jr hs kids at a time. I cannot meet all their needs. Especially since they have been passed on to me no matter what their proficiency. I wish many of them could elect some other situation for themselves but I have no control over that.

  3. Your question, "Would I expect the teachers to be mean to her?" No, I would expect them to be professional. And if they couldn't handle the behavior, I would expect that professionalism to include asking for and getting some kind of help - or GET OUT of the profession if need be.

    BTW - she has already been moved 'front and center' in her class. Her regular classroom teacher said that 'The first three times I tell her, I use my nice voice... after that I might sound a little more frustrated." My wife and I gave him the most understanding look! :)

    The point I'm making here is that I truly do UNDERSTAND how easily this can happen. It's human nature for teachers to 'share notes' on kids.

    When 'chatty' becomes distracting, disruptive, inattentive... and then you multiply that effect by at least another one or two kids as they join in the 'fun and festivities'...

    OK, I'm a big believer in what you focus on magnifies for better or for worse. That fact has proven itself over and over again throughout my life. So let's talk potential positive solutions for a bit.

    Here's how my wife and I manage to keep OUR sanity at home. Our daughter is expected to manage certain aspects of her routine increasingly on her own as she grows older. We have a checklist and monitor where she is along the routine several times a day - some items in the morning, some right after school in the afternoon, and the final set in the evening between dinner and bed time.

    When Ambrosia performs the expected routine/ behavior on her own, she gets a hug. If she 'forgets' or otherwise misses a target, she OWES US a hug AND a PROMISE to do better.

    She makes A LOT OF PROMISES! :)

    And you're right about expecting the teachers to treat her with kindness. It's HARD... but it IS possible.

    While it's very tempting and easier for my wife and I to ask ourselves, "What's WRONG with our kid... why isn't she getting it?" Most evenings our pillow-talk conversations are about, "What else can WE do to help Ambrosia?"

    So yeah, I get what you're saying. Teaching and parenting are endless and often thankless tasks. Parents and teachers are expected to outlast the chatty, inattentive, disruptive, etc behavior. As my wife so often reminds me, "We signed up for this!"

    I look forward to other points of view. Sometimes I feel like such a failure but then I also see the times when 'Chatty' Ambrosia lights up the life of our neighbors in the elevator or total strangers in the supermarket! There's hope!

    Thanks for making this blog, Lisa!

    All the best from Toronto,

  4. If you only knew how much it meant to me to read this today. Thank you for putting this out there. <3 I needed it.

  5. I'm the parent of three children, all 3 of whom are ADD/ADHD, one of whom is also hearing impaired and another w/ dyslexia. Plenty of opportunities for any of them to end up in the crosshairs of an adult. With the exception of one awful teacher (who moved to admin a year or two later & then got the boot because she was imperiling the morale of an entire building after a year) my kids were never "blackballed".

    I made a point to meet w/ each teacher within the 1st week of school to explain our commitment to making the year a success which included a version of "What We Will Do To Support Your Classroom Efforts".

    But more the most important thing we did as parents was to teach them manners. Most effectively, by example, when Mom & Dad use their "magic words", kids do too. Totally convinced manners are the gateway to fully developed empathy.

    As to the lasting effects of one jerk of a teacher, all to the good. Brought out my child's tendency to identify subtle but corrosive bullying - and whenever possible call the offender out. It was a rough year but it, too, was an education.

    And my youngest used words to minimize the consequences of mischief - thankfully not all of his teachers were so easily swayed to cut him slack. Equally to be thanked are those who encouraged the creativity even if occasionally at their expense. And I know these things because I showed up for conferences, did 2 field trips (per kid) and had a half- dozen contacts throughout the year.

  6. I would love your respondents to contribute their stories to my research: I'm looking at bullying in SEN settings.

  7. I'm researching bullying in relation to special education settings. I'd love your respondents to contribute their stories to my research. I don't think I'm allowed to post web addresses here, but my twitter is jo3grace and there's a link from my profile there.