Sunday, October 30, 2011

Workplace bullying – behind closed doors

From the pre-pubescent “Mum, my teacher’s mean” right through to the be-whiskered deep voiced rumble “That creep was shouting in Serena’s face so close she was being sprayed with spittle”, it seems that bullying is rife in the classroom, usually out of view (or conveniently ignored by those in power) and behind closed doors. And who’s going to believe a child anyway and look dispassionately at both sides? The parent finds that even when the most tentative comment is made, the ranks close and hackles rise. “How dare you question my teaching methods?”

This post is for the boys in my family.  I want to let you know that whilst I can’t do anything to ease your pain, hurt and anger, I can help raise awareness and call these mean teachers by the rightful term: bullies.

How proud I was to hear that in the face of relentless verbal taunts you acted responsibly and wisely. When confronted by a bully, we advise that you turn and walk away, get out of their vicinity and don’t respond. You’ll probably be labelled as a difficult child, wilful and disrespectful. But in the face of threat, embarrassment and discomfort, you showed bravery and courage. You left the classroom where you were the target of the teacher bully. I can’t imagine how much you were provoked to feel that was the only action available to you.

You are marking time, surviving at school, but not thriving as you should be. Sometimes school sucks big time.

When the teacher bully targets one or two children, humiliates and belittles them publicly, the rest of the class responds with nervous titters - best to side with the bully than become a target yourself!

What strength it takes not to respond, to pretend to laugh off the humiliating comments. But you see the pain of those who are targeted day after day, week after week, month after month and you don’t know how to help. You stick up for them when you can, but see the injustice and cruelty. You’ve observed how the teacher looks for any behaviour that is out of line, draws attention to it, but never notices or praises the good. He laughs and brings attention to your classmates learning difficulty to his utter shame and bewilderment.

A domino - Berlin 2009.
To confront the teacher bully and tell them to “back off” from verbally abusing another student takes a lot of courage. By golly, I admire you for this. You’ve drawn attention to the bully’s unacceptable behaviour, which he may not take kindly to; from experience you’ll know this method can often backfire and you may become the next target.

How proud I am of you, standing up for the underdog who was being unfairly harangued. To be confronted by a large, dominant and angry teacher is intimidating, frightening, humiliating. It’s an abuse of power and is never acceptable. It never encourages a student to work harder or better or showcase their talent.

I see strong boys, acting with integrity, courage, intelligence and compassion. I’m so proud to be related to you. The teacher bullies you’re confronting appear to be sadly lacking in these qualities. I wonder if they’re threatened by these strengths in you.

To be confined in a classroom where abuse if rife, to be the target, or observe another being harangued, needled, provoked is horribly painful.

You rail against the unfairness, and as parents and family, we can’t always help. We don’t have the answers, and often feel powerless too. Sometimes it sucks being a parent. We don’t always know how to put a stop to teacher bullying - but we see your hurt, anger and frustration and are here to listen whenever you need to unload.



Anonymous said...

There should be some kind of psychological testing for teachers to weed out the misfits.

sue said...

Delores - absolutely.

Anonymous said...

That really sucks when a teacher bullies a kid. Hard to defend yourself because the person is so much bigger and they have the authority. I had to go to court in the sixth grade and testify against a teacher who punched one of my nest friends. It was traumatic for everyone. In the end, he was gone and ended up teaching in another city far away.

sue said...

Stephen, it's so wrong and as you say, even if there's an investigation it impacts on all involved. Too often the perpetrator often goes on to work elsewhere - which would be fine if there had been competent, effective re-training so the person learnt new behaviours.

Betty Alark said...

Hi Sue!

Here in Maryland children bullying children is in the news alot - I'm surprised to here that teachers are actually bullying students.

I am a former teacher and I realize it is tough being a teacher.

Teachers have to deal with a lot of unwarranted behavior from students; we are human and have to use a lot of self-control to restrain ourselves from acting out in an unprofessional manner; however children are childern and regardless of their behavior,it doesn't condone a teacher responding in a manner that demeans a student or bullies them in anyway; after all thats the meaning of being a teacher- to use every moment as a teaching moment to benefit the student.

Thanks for sharing that story- Sue!!


sue said...

Betty, I too am a former teacher and I know most do a wonderful job under constant budget cuts and relentless paperwork as well as behavioural problems (from parents as well as students and other teachers).

Unfortunately, some teachers shouldn't be in the profession. Sadly all too often when a child complains, we assume they're exaggerating and will side with the teacher without delving deeper or looking for a pattern.