Current Events in Education

What Happens When the Teacher is the Bully?

As an educator, I am duty bound to ensure that all my students not only learn but are educated in an environment that is conducive to that learning. This means creating a space for creativity, critical thinking, and risk taking; a space where opinions are varied but respect is consistent; a space where students are safe to be who they are without condemnation and know that they are loved and well-held. This should be the case for all educators however, sadly, based on the recent post-election reports, this is not the case. According to  the Southern Poverty Law Center, as of this writing, over 700 reports of bullying, hate speech, sexual harassment, and intimidation have been reported since the election. Over forty percent of these incidents are by students toward students. But what happens when this same behavior comes from educators?
Over 700 reports of bullying, hate speech, sexual harassment, and intimidation have been reported since the election Click To Tweet
In the days following the election, reports of teachers saying deplorable and reprehensible things to children have made their way to the media. Here are some examples of a few:
A substitute teacher in LAUSD was recorded telling students that as soon as President Trump took the oath of office their parents would be deported and they would be in foster care.
A teacher at a school in Dekalb County, Georgia where 86% of the students are Hispanic or Latino made disparaging remarks about undocumented immigrants
A teacher at Wesley Chapel High School in Florida approached two African American students who were in the hallway, asked what they were doing, and told them “Don’t make me call Donald Trump to get you sent back to Africa.”
While these incidents appear to isolated, they are simply the ones that have made the news. One would be foolish to believe that there are not others hiding in the shadows. So, what should happen when teacher bullying occurs?
If you are a student being bullied…
–Find an adult you can trust, whether that be another teacher, an administrator, or any other adult in the building or in your community and tell them what happened.
–Tell your parents or caregivers immediately and let them handle it from there.
–If you are able, and you don’t feel comfortable staying, go home. You shouldn’t have to stay in any space where you feel threatened or unsafe.
–Don’t try to retaliate. That’s never a wise choice and being punished because of it does not help the situation
If you are a student and see a fellow student being bullied…
–Reassure them that you witnessed what happened and will stand by them if necessary
–Tell an adult you can trust what happened and ask them to intervene
–Stay with that person as much as possible throughout the day. Just knowing that someone who cares is close by be helpful
You shouldn’t have to stay in any space where you feel threatened or unsafe. Click To Tweet
If you are a parent of a child being bullied by her teacher…
–Listen to her when she tells you what happened and don’t just dismiss the concern. Yes, sometimes students can exaggerate an encounter with a teacher but listen to what they say nonetheless and pick up on patterns if the concerns become frequent.
–Have your student document each incident with the day, date, and time if possible. If your student is too young, listen carefully to what they say and document them yourself.
–If the situation isn’t too grievous, meet with the teacher and explain your concerns.  Best case scenario it was either a misunderstanding or unintended.
–If the situation isn’t resolved with the teacher, follow the chain of command before contacting the principal. In most schools, that means contacting the teacher’s department or content chair or lead, the department or content administrator, and then finally the principal. If none of these avenues work, contacting the superintendent or someone in the district or county office can be used as a last resort.
–Reassure your child that you support them and will move heaven and earth to make sure the situation comes to a positive resolution.
–Do not threaten the teacher in either person or in writing. Much like with students, this will not end well for you and will only aggravate the situation further.
If you are a teacher and you see a colleague bullying a student…
–If you have a positive relationship with that teacher approach them with what you witnessed and listen.
–Again, if you have a positive relationship with the teacher, offer suggestions to help them better express their emotions.
–If you don’t have the best relationship with the teacher, approach anyway and have what is called a “courageous conversation” with him or her. A “courageous conversation” is one where you exhibit bravery and discuss a topic that might be uncomfortable.
–If none of these work, go to the teacher’s immediate supervisor or administrator and express your concerns. This can be a difficult decision to make depending on the climate of your school, especially if you fear retaliation (Administrators can be bullies too). Make the decision that is best for you and the student being bullied
If you are the teacher bully…
–Stop. Seek good council. See a therapist. Get out of the classroom until you can treat all students fairly and equitably. If you cannot, do not return.
–If you are at least a little reflective, follow the Golden Rule and do unto other as you would have others do unto you. Place yourself in the shoes of the student and then act accordingly.
–Apologize and then don’t ever do it again. One of the most powerful moments comes when a teacher, who has both positional and perceived influence, humbles him or herself and sincerely apologizes to a student. You must heal the wound you made.
As we continue to grapple with post-election fallout, let us not forget that as educators our job is to protect our students and not harm them. The premise of the Hippocratic Oath: first, do no harm, ought not only apply to physicians. It must also apply to anyone in a profession that involves the care of children and teenagers. Teachers fall into this category.
While the focus of this article was teachers who bully students, the same applies to teachers who are bullied by other teachers or administrators. We are surely in trying times but we must be committed to maintaining the safety and respect of all students and educators alike.

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