The Bully Your Child Meets Might Not Be in the Hallways: Recognizing the Bully Teacher.
It is sad to say, but bullies do exist in the classroom, and not only peer to peer, but from teacher to student. It does not happen a lot, but I believe it exists on every campus. I have seen the bully teacher in full swing first hand, and I always have the same reaction: tears in my eyes, shame for not being able to do more to make it stop. The first time I saw a child ripped to shreds by a teacher, I was also a child unable to help.
The next vivid memory I have is from my early teaching years. My principal recommended I visit as many classes as possible to get a feel for classroom management, and other tips I might pick up to make me the best possible teacher. I was absolutely floored when a few minutes after I walked into a veteran teacher’s room, the biggest kid in class was being taken to task.
He was told to stand against the back wall, where all eyes were cast upon him. For his lack of wanting to participate in a class discussion about the reading, he was verbally abused for several minutes. It did not take much to bring this oversized child to tears as he quickly swiped his face with the back of his hand while he tried to take his punishment like a man.
I could not believe my eyes. I left in tears that gushed down my face faster than I could catch them with the back of my hand. There was absolutely nothing that child did to bring on this teacher’s wrath, and there was nothing this child could have done to defend himself.
This moment was forever cemented in my mind, and led me to later develop some memorable characters in my first book Heroes Don’t Always Wear Capes, realistic fiction that covers the best and worst of what teaching has to offer among educators from a student’s point of view.
This is not the last time I witness the bully teacher putting a kid up against a wall, until tears come trickling down his face. A respected colleague surprised me when her door flung open during sixth period one afternoon.
She screamed at the top of her lungs for several minutes until this boy was sobbing. I had to close my classroom door, hoping to give him some privacy from his peers in my class, and to hopefully drown out the drama. As I returned to the front of the room to face my students, several of them had tears in their eyes, and I lost it once again.
It is human nature to feel compassion for those in need of our help. To watch someone suffer tugs at our heart. It took a few minutes before we could compose ourselves and carry on as if nothing was happening outside of our door.
The bully teacher provides lessons all right—lessons in humiliation, degradation, and destruction of one’s self-esteem.
I am now a veteran teacher in a better position to speak up when I see wrongdoing, even to address the teacher directly. This takes guts because, likely, the bully teacher is also a bully to colleagues.
The bully teacher hides behind tenure, and fraternizes with union leaders. The bully teacher intimidates administrators and parents who might worry that there will be more retaliation against their child in class. After all, grades are important.
Schools are active in measures to stop bullying among students, but what can be done to stop the bully teacher?
It is first important to distinguish between a teacher that is strict and structured vs. a teacher that is promoting harm to the psychological well-being of your child. If you suspect the latter, ask to volunteer in your child’s class. No teacher wants another adult to witness them verbally abusing students.
Document your child’s reports of times when they feel abused by the teacher bully, and any witnesses who will support this claim. Bring your documentation to administrators, starting with the principal, then working your way up the chain of command if you are not satisfied with the results.
Know that in instances of abuse, victims are not made to sit with their abusers to negotiate an outcome. A child has no equal power at this table. It is the job of the parent to advocate for their child.
Furthermore, I wonder why more schools don’t employ cameras in the classroom. Bill Gates recommends this idea in his Ted talk. I like it, too.
I wonder about several other measures, but since I have never seen them tried, there must be some good reason against them. I do understand there are false claims made by students who do not like a particular teacher, and this is why the rubber room approach to removing tenured teachers from the classroom who sit idle all day away from children, earning their full salary while being investigated is a controversial topic.
Again, the bully teacher does not make up the majority of teachers. But if you experience it as a student, it will impact your life adversely for the entire year—likely having repercussions for the rest of your life.
Blog question: How do we remove the bully teacher from the classroom?