Saturday, October 26, 2013

10 Tips for Dealing with a Teacher-Bully

Bullying has been front and center in the public arena for some time now. In recent years, schools have promoted a zero tolerance for schoolyard bullying. Guidelines and resources are more readily available to cope with the workplace bully, as well as for cyber bullying that happens on the computer superhighway.

But what if your child's teacher is the bully? At a National Bullying Convention held in 2005, it was found that 2% of children are bullied by a teacher in their lifetime. Teachers who are bullies have the same characteristics of other bullies. They are sadistic and petty, gaining self-esteem through the humiliation of others. In the school environment, a teacher-bully will shame a child in front of classmates, often using their position of authority in abusive ways. The teacher-bully may make an example of a child, sending him out of the room or to the corner. Maybe an extra assignment or denying your child recess or the bathroom becomes the vehicle for bullying.

I had a teacher who was a bully. I was in the 10th grade and she made my life miserable. She was my Spanish teacher, and all year long she picked on me, calling on me to answer impossible questions, throwing me out of the class for making too much noise writing with my pencil and even accusing me of cheating on the Regents exam. Decades later, I still have nightmares from those classes - which tells me that I was truly brutalized from her constant shaming and bullying.

Luckily, I had a reputation as being a very quiet student, never getting into any trouble or mischief. I hardly spoke in class and was painfully shy. Administrators responsible for overseeing my “discipline” knew there was a bullying situation going on. Unfortunately, there were two choices. Either drop Spanish and not graduate or stay in the class, since there were no other Spanish classes to transfer into. The lesser of two evils was to stay in the class. And though I had support from my parents and from my friends, the teacher’s bullying was traumatic for me. I was young and ill-equipped to deal with the humiliation and accusations. Like a deer in headlights, I just stood there, helpless.

I’ve long shed the quiet and hesitant demeanor of my childhood. I have a zero tolerance for bullying of any kind - and am fierce when I have to be. In fact, as a therapist, I help many children take on their bullying battles with great success. And every time I do, I think back to my Spanish teacher and how I’d do things differently if I could go back in time.

Ten Tips for Dealing with a Teacher-Bully

If your child is being bullied by a teacher, here are some ways to combat the abuse.

1) Listen attentively to your child when he or she talks about what's going on in the classroom. Your child’s emotional expression is an important aspect of healing, so make sure your child feels heard.

2) Remind your child that shame and humiliation are not acceptable ways of treating another human being. Ever. This is abuse, and your child needs to know that is a cruel and shameful form of treatment that must immediately stop..

3) Some children will be happy for you to intervene, while others may become terrified of your involvement. Support and comfort your child but also teach that you cannot let this hurtful behavior continue.

4) Inform your child that you'll be speaking with the teacher to open up a dialogue about the situation. This is about "problem solving" - and doing so will teach your child how to negotiate difficult situations in the future.

5) When confronting the teacher, remember that poise and strength count. Resist falling into the gutter with the teacher-bully. Sinking to that level will hurt your position should you need to go further with this issue with legal, civil or media intervention.

6) Leave a hard-copy or email paper trail of all your conversations with the teacher. If things continue to be abusive for your child, don’t wait. Immediately involve the school administration and support staff.

7) If the bullying hasn't stopped, and there's been no other accommodations made for your child at the school building level, contact the Superintendent and notify your school board.

8) Consider a school transfer if you cannot find success from any of these strategies.

9) Don’t hesitate to file a complaint to the state licensing board.

10) Consider professional help for your child if the bullying causes significant distress.


S'onnie said...

In the last few years bullying has hit the lime lights here. What scares me is the number of teachers who deliberately ignore the signs that a child is being bullied to me they are just as bad as teachers who are bullying children

Dr. Deb said...

So true, S'onnie. Research says that those who witness and do nothing about the bullying are part of the problem too.

Sid said...

My daughter had a teacher that was a bully when she was in grade school or maybe it was 6th grade. Either way, the minute I found out she had insulted my daughter, which was totally out of line, I called the principal and set up an appointment to meet with her and the teacher. The teacher walked in, not even realizing what the meeting was about and was shocked that someone called her out for being so mean. She apologized profusely to my exhubby and I, but I told her the only person she needed to apologize to was my daughter and she'd better do it. After school my daughter said she did get an apology and we had no more trouble with her after that. It should be a no-brainer that teachers shouldn't be bullying their students, but since it does happen, maybe if more parents called the teachers out for bullying, there would be less of it.

I was bullied by my 2nd grade teacher, but I knew my mother would never believe me or care, so I just had to endure it.

Laura Fabiani said...

I was glad to read this post. We are eight parents who have complained first to the lunch supervisor and then to the principal with a written letter about a bully lunch monitor and still nothing has been done to resolve the problem. We are now taking it to the school board.

Dr. Deb said...

You and your ex handled that great. I think most know that they are being cruel, but I suppose we must leave room for those who just forget the power of their own words and behaviors. I'm sorry you had to endure things when you were little.

Wow, Laura, good networking. What a terrible trauma for children to have to endure. I hope you and the other parents are successful in remedying this situation.

vividvi said...

my youngest daughter encountered a teacher-bully in first grade, when she was already dealing with anxiety issues brought on by a school change due to the school district's efforts to deal with overcrowding. i had always been involved in pta, and i knew that in our district, fighting the school board never worked. therefore, i had learned to deal with school problems pragmatically. i signed up as a parent volunteer in the teacher-bully's classroom and showed up once a week to help her in whatever way i could. although this was common in our district, she had never had a parent helper due to her bad reputation and personality. she was so thankful for my help that she treated my daughter with more tolerance than usual. in conjunction with this, i kept up a fictional dialogue with my daughter about the wonderful first-grade experience she was having. we both knew it was a lie, but it helped her have a happy year. my one and only goal was to get her through that year with the least trauma possible. and it worked. she now looks back, knowing that her teacher was a bully, but she came through unscathed. at the end of the year, the teacher gave me a gift of some perennial flowers to express her gratitude for my help. they still bloom every spring in our garden.