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Teachers & Teaching        < Previous        Next >


Bullies: Sometimes, It's Staff


Q. My teenage daughter has a teacher who is a bully. She will humiliate a child whose solution to a test question is not what she thinks she taught. She lets the kids see everybody else's grades. She has been overheard saying that she is out to "get" students whose parents have a lot of money. If you aren't out for the sport she coaches, you're "nothing." She seems too powerful to buck. What can we do?


Be gentle. Bullies have personal problems and may feel inferior and powerless. They put down others to try to make themselves feel better, using verbal abuse, humiliation and threats of physical harm. But they can be very defensive, so don't use the term "bully" when trying to deal with such a person. Instead, focus on your child's symptoms and feelings.


Bullies lack empathy and tend not to feel remorse. But their hurtful behavior shouldn't be met with more hurtful behavior. Instead, help both sides of a bullying situation by helping them talk it out.


Symptoms of a child who may be being bullied, either by another student or by an adult staff member: headaches, stomachaches, nightmares, acting up, and self-criticism. Grades also may drop, although teacher bullies often use lower grades as a weapon.


When the bully is a teacher or other staff, it reflects badly on the school administration. But don't start there. Start with the bully.


What to do: document incidents with dates, descriptions and consequences to your child. Write down your child's descriptions of the teacher's facial expression and tone of voice. Arrange a meeting, stay pleasant and keep an open mind. Give the teacher a copy of your written account. Report what happened and how your child felt. Don't "judge," just report. Then see if things change. Make sure you are working with your child to build empathy and respect for other people's feelings, physical "space" and property.


Another adult maybe you? can show the bullying adult see that what he or she is doing is erroneous and harmful.


Bring in the school's code of conduct or student manual, which should have been given to you on the first day of school, or incorporated in your child's assignment notebook or other school-issued materials. Talk over your child's symptoms and feelings in the perspective of that code of conduct. Surely, one of the main rules is that no one should ever ridicule or harass anyone else. If it's grounds for student suspension or expulsion, you'd better believe the same behavior by an adult employee is grounds for dismissal . . . or a lawsuit by you.


If nothing changes, then go to the bully's boss, and on up the chain of command until you can come to a mutually-satisfactory conclusion. It may be far simpler than having that teacher fired, but that has happened in a number of cases, and sometimes, the principal is well aware of the problem and just waiting for a parent to have the moxie to insist on it.


Bullying behavior is on the rise among both boys and girls, most likely because of a lack of good guidance in the home. But when a school tolerates or is oblivious to student bullies, it's a safe bet it is allowing grown-up bullies, too.


Remember, there are just as many bullies among parents as among teachers. So if you see this kind of behavior in another parent, with the teacher as the victim, act to stop it.


Homework: See and


By Susan Darst Williams Teachers 14 2008


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