Sunday, January 16, 2011

When The Teacher is the 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? Recent research shows 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 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 noise and even accusing me of cheating on the Regents exam. 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 teenage years. 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. It brings a smile to my face thinking about how I’d take her on with my kick-ass, no-nonsense set of bully-stomping skills.

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 the bullying. Your child’s emotional expression is an important aspect of healing. Ask for details, but don’t push too hard.

2) Remind your child that shame and humiliation are not acceptable ways of treating another human being. This is abusive, and your child needs to know what that means.

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 educate him or her 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.

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.


Wanda's Wings said...

This is really good advise. Teachers can have such an effect on a child live either for good or bad. Bully is not acceptable!

OHN said...

Last semester my son (college Junior) had a psychology teacher (ironically a psychologist that touts a specialty in relationships) that routinely called him out in class. There were over 100 students in the class and for some reason this teacher decided that my son would be a good whipping boy. Things escalated to the point where many of the students began to ask my son what he did to antagonize the teacher.....he had no answer. My son confided in a professor in another one of his classes (a Ph.D well known for his work in PTSD ) and this professor nodded, raised an eyebrow, and indicated that the teacher in question had had "issues" with students before. It drives me nuts that tuition is ridiculously high and there are "professionals" that are less than professional.

S'onnie said...

I had a teacher who was a bully when I started std 1 at my primary school. Even now 30 years on I remember clearly the first incident where this dragon of a teacher taught me to believe I was worthless. First day of the new school year after christmas holidays and she told us to write stories about our holidays. After carefully explaining our holiday I gave my story in and she proceeded to acuse me of copying another girl in the class. She followed this by hitting me with a ruler around the legs and calling me all sorts of names. Now here are a few key facts... the little girl I was acused of copying was my twin sister... no surprises there that our stories were the same... we went on the same holiday, we both went on the same ferry.

what made this situation even worse was that despite what my sister said my mother told me it was all my fault.

I truely believe that teachers like that should be banned from schools with all the damage they can do.

This teacher made my life a misery in that year. So much so that I would deliberately do things that would cause me to get sick or exacerbate my allergies so I couldn't go to school.

edragan said...

Victoria, my 14-year-old granddaughter with Down syndrome was "taken" to a "time-out" room by her teacher, with the help of another staff member at her special education school when the teacher decided that she was not "behaving" on the way to her bus at the end of the day. The teacher called Victoria's mother and said, "If Victoria doesn't behave you will have to pick her up after school, she won't be able to ride the bus. By the way, when she was in the time out room she took off all her clothes and was banding on the door to get out." It turned out that the "time out" room was a 6x6 foot cinder block closet. The teacher stood outside the door and "guarded" Victoria so she couldn't leave until she stopped crying and banging on the walls and door. The school had no authority to utilize this technique as part of a behavior plan for Victoria. The teacher clearly was a bully. An immediate meeting with the school administration, the teacher and the behavior specialist provided an opportunity for Victoria's mom to make it clear that this is never to occur again. The behaviorist determined that a positive behavior plan needed to be developed to avoid the reaction(bullying) from the teacher.

Edward F. Dragan, EdD is the author of "The Bully Action Guide: How to Help Your Child and How to Get Your School to Listen" available for pre-publication order from

Faycin A Croud said...

In sixth grade I had a teacher who was a bully. He smacked one of my friends in the back of the head for laughing about something. He upset one boy, who was in a foster home and didn't want to leave but there was a danger that he'd have to because there was too many people in the house. The boy told him to eff off and stormed out of the class. He gave me an F for following the outline of my story too closely and then asked me what the hell I was trying to pull when I'd been sick for three weeks. I locked his file cabinet on him and threw the key behind it when he wasn't looking. I was never a trouble maker but this guy was horrible. He should never have been around kids.

Jamie said...

Great post. I was bullied by my teacher in Grade 2 and it was very traumatic. She called me names (stupid), made me stand alone in the hallway, sent me to the principals office, ridicule me in class, etc.

Mid-way through the year I started throwing up every day at school. My mom was actively involved in trying to find a solution and the school refused to do anything.

I didn't go back to that school after that terrible year. My mom, a school teacher herself, decided to home school me since I was sensitive to bullying.

I was terrified when my oldest started Kindergarten. I don't want a similar experience to scar her for life too.

TK Kerouac said...

Is it too late to contact your bullying teacher to let her know the impact she had?

I had a dentist who hit me very hard with his metal instrument when I was crying in pain with teeth work being done at a young age.
my chin broke out in a large bruise yet I didn't speak up to my parents when they asked what happened.

Although I did not use my voice at this young age
as I got older and wiser, I became more of an advocate for young children or anyone being abused or humiliated.

Anonymous said...

God I could tell you some tales of assorted abusive assholes at the front of the class from my schooldays. That was why I vowed, when I became a teacher, to never put students in the position I was sometimes put in. A very worthwhile posting, my friend.

Dreaming again said...

I experienced it in the 8th grade. I remember little of it, except the day that my math teacher stood toe to toe with my mother telling her that if I missed his mid term, I'd fail the semester and not move on to high school ... the reason I was missing was I was attending the funeral of my much beloved step father. In his eyes, he was 'just' a step parent and therefore not a family member. (he'd married my mom when I was 14 months old ... and had started dating her when I was less than 4 months old)

She pulled me out and put me into a private school where I formed relationships that are still in my life today.

My son had a bully of a teacher and we found ourselves stuck ... his teacher told him that he'd make it the most 'miserable year of his life' ... not only did he say it to this child, but admitted it in front of the principal, school psychologist and special ed director that he said it and would in fact, act on it. They did nothing. We couldn't pull him out because he was the only 6th grade special education history teacher.

Anonymous said...

Great post. I had a couple of teachers who bullied me as well. Even though I have a hard time remembering most of my childhood I do remember those instances very clearly. I also don't have any tolerance for bullying now.

Carie said...

in third grade I had a teacher who was just so mean, she picked on 2 girls non stop, they were both so small, one day she duct taped the 2 girls to their chairs (she was mad because during free time they wandered more than others) I got mad and started to undo the tape, told her she was in the wrong, she grabbed me by my hair and dragged me out of the class, I got sent to the principals office, I wouldn't talk to any of the school officials, I asked for my mom, when she arrived I told her what happend and my mom blew she went off on the lady, the principal fired the teacher, and then sat me down and told me she had hoped she had proved to me that I could go to her, that all of us could...after that we all did, but before that we were all afraid of her, hmmm now I wonder why...funny how the mean teacher looked non threatning, yet we all learned to fear her, while the principal was amazing but we feared her for years, until we got to know her...

Now as a mom when Ashley comes to me about a teacher being maybe unfair I am quick to talk to Ash and the teachers, I go to all the "open houses" to meet the teachers, I make sure they all know that I will be an active part of my daughters schooling, and except for one teacher they all seem to be open and even happy to have an open line of communication, one teacher I did have problems with, she was super hard on Ashley, after trying to resolve it for weeks I just asked that she be transfered to another class, the teacher told me my daughter rubbed her the wrong straight A, quiet, shy child who never speaks up seemed to make her angry for no reason, at the end of the school year she transfered to the city college here...I will never understand why some people become teachers

Dr. Deb said...

With great power comes great responsibility. This applies to teachers too.

I'm a big believer in raising the volume if an organization won't take care of the abuse. Tape the class, get media outlets involved, youtube it. I'm sorry this has happened.

What a horrible story.

I am going to read the Bully Action guide. Thanks for linking info here.

Faycin A Croud,
Sounds so similar to my experience. Terrible that you had to deal with this.

The physical reactions to emotional stress can be so debilitating. I'm so glad you had support from family.

My teacher-bully is long dead. She probably should have retired back when I had her as a teacher.

I'm like you. As a teacher now, I make sure I'm fair, balanced, kind and aware.

I cannot believe that the teacher spoke like that in front of others. A loose cannon. Scary.

inamaze ,
More than one teacher bullied you. How hard that must have been to move through.

You are such a great mother. There are many who take on a career because it is a calling, others gravitate toward a job because it serves a purpose for them. Sad, indeed.

STAG said...

Made me think, this post did! Bullying, and the successful coping mechanisms I developed to recognize and deal with it have gravely affected me even decades later.

Anonymous said...

I am sorry to hear about your horrible Spanish teacher. I have strong feelings about a teacher that my mom had when she was in about 4th grade. I don't think parents spoke up then like they do now but her mom found out that my mom was not alone. This teacher had favorites and those she ridiculed. My mom was ridiculed and it would take time before she would see how she is smart in ways after the damage done by this teacher.

Also, I appreciate seeing you make nice comments on a couple of my on-line friends blogs from time to time that are uplifting. I tried to post before and am hoping this will finally work. I have followed here for years. :)

Dr. Deb said...

Traumas can help us even though they may hurt us.


Thanks for the comment - and for being a reader for so long. From time to time, I've had to keep the blog restricted from spammers and cyber bullies. I hope I can keep it fully open now.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Deb,

Thank you so much for writing about this. (I'm obviously a bit behind on my google reader!) I was recently talking about this with my own therapist. I was bullied by my two forth grade teachers and it really has had a very lasing impact. Luckily, my parents were supportive and did what they could. I was also lucky to be smart enough that I could often go home "sick" and not get behind in my work. My parents ended up pulling me and my brother out of that school at the end of the year. I think that bullying by teachers at school is something that so often gets overlooked when discussing bullying, and I appreciate you bringing up the topic!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for writing this up. As a former victim of a bullying by a monster teacher more than 20 years ago, I now feel like I am not alone with this issue anymore. Please keep it up and don't stop writing about the issue of monster teachers.

Briony Coote said...

Funny how fiction has been portraying bullying teachers for decades, but reality is only beginning to catch up. Bullying teachers cropped up regularly in the old British comics, books, films, and television.

And who can forget that classic moment from Grange Hill when Mr Baxter slugs the bullying 'head case' teacher, Mr Hicks? That moment is there on YouTube, with lots of comments about teachers who act exactly like Hicks.

Nicole said...

I feel so close to your story because I am a 10th grader with a Spanish teacher that gives me anxiety attacks everyday. I can't bear the way she talks down to me. She made me cry and my parents are about to talk to the school to see what they can do. There may be a chance I cannot leave this class. What are some coping skills I can use in dealing with her? I am very shy and sensitive I do try to do all my work and be a good student but I am not good enough for her standards.

SapperK9 said...

I see no mention of the Police? My grandson, one of 12, was recently bullied by his teacher bordering on child abuse, which led to his demeaning by fellow students. Simply, at swimming class, his shorts were stolen. The teacher (Physical Education specialist) tol him he could not wear his swimming shorts in lieu, but MUST wear a towel for the remainder of the day. The incident occurred at 11:40am.

For the rest of the day, sat in a wet towel, with no attempt to remediate his hurt, or sit in NOT in a wet towel, he had to go home covering himself with the towel. All this with no attempt to contact his parents or myself (his contact in case of their absence).

This shows clearly that not only was he bullied but abused, bordering on sexual abuse, by other teachers in whose other classes he sat for the remainder of the day shared a corporate in loco parentis responsibility for continuing this nonsensical abuse - adults bullying a child. He is eight years old and the smallest child in the class. His classmates mocked him on his walk back home as added "bullying cream" to the blasted cake.

Tomorrow, I shall contact the police and see if charges should be laid for criminal behaviour by the teacher(s) and should this not prove successful, I just may follow the route of a civil case.

Bullying can be bad, but it must a criminal act when occasioned by adults in loco parentis in my opinion and the teacher(s) responsible should be prosecuted to the full force of criminal law.

Anonymous said...

I am an adult (in my 50's) who is being bullied by teachers in a class I am taking on a new job site. The other students talk to each other and on their cell phones or play on the computers - making it impossible to hear the teachers and learn. The teacher will humiliate me - thinking I am not listening - I am trying to listen - I simply cannot hear over the class chaos.

Nicky said...

My 13 year old son is being bullied by a teacher. Unfortunatley members of the teaching profession are so well protected, shrouded in red tape and procedures that it would seem nothing more than a stern talking to by the head master will be done. This makes me so frustrated, this dreadful woman is terrorising my child and others and being paid to do so to-boot. Where is the justice?

Anonymous said...

Not a day goes by without this young student leaves school in tears. It is not only some classmates bullying her unmercifuly but, also, the teachers and lunch gardiennes. It is sickening.The teacher went as far as erasing a letter from a word so she can lower her mark. To no avail. Despite all this, this student is the youngest of two classes, one of the best in her class. These adults should never be allowed to be near children, ever, and the other classmates who are the bullies should be held accountable.

PK said...

Hi All,

I have a 7 year old kid who is very active, and runs into trouble all the time because of other kids just because he thinks that telling on other kids would put them into trouble. After several talks with my son, making him understand that he is falling into trouble, he understood that he should stand for himself.

But in the process, I came to know that, whenever he tells on anyone to his teacher, his teacher says, he is lying and this has been continuing for long time.

When I took this issue to the principal, and principal asked my son in front of me, he explained her what his teacher says. But it looks like, Principal believes more in teacher and conveys me that teacher hasn't said anything like that but kid must have interpreted her words in a different way.

Please someone help me on how to handle this situation. I cannot send my son anymore to this class as I am not sure what teacher might plan on how to corner my son to start showing him as a more trouble guy..

Anonymous said...

My daughter was bullied by a teacher in grade 4. She was 8. The teacher is a well known bully and I went to the superintendent of the board who's reply was "He's a nice guy, I met him once at a cocktail party'. She not only did nothing, the union prevented anything from happening; cancelling meetings at the last minute, not rescheduling, etc. The province will only hear cases of sexual abuse. It changed her life and knocked the wind out of her sails. Bullycide is real and I cry everytime of hear that a young person takes their life because of it. How do other teaches stand by and let it happen? I don't get it.

Anonymous said...

I am sorry to hear your Spanish class troubles. I have a similar teacher for my Performing Arts class. Nobody at my school likes me, so everything I said people would yell at me for. One day my teacher stood up for me in class, and in my mind I danced with happiness. I was also terrified of what the other kids would say though. The next time she said my name in class, it was horrible. She said: "Please write your name on the postits and put them on the posters you agree with. Since we were her only Performing Arts class, (she teaches gym mostly) it was obvious she would throw them out. So I asked "Why don't we just write our names on the posters?" in an extremely nice way, and she said " Beacause I am in charge, this is how I want to do it, oh, and by the way, thank you for trying to take over." OMG!! Then, today, she was signing people up for performances and asked who else needed to go. Me and like 5 other kids yelled one kids name as a joke. The kid calls me a "Pale Jew" that no one likes. 1. I'm not pale, 2.I am not Jewish, and 3. How is Judaism and insult?? Anyway she gets mad at him to the extreme and pulls him into the hall, (not physically). She then calls me over and asks if I called his name. I say yes and she gets a sassy look. She says "You need to not worry about others!!! Cornell is none of your buisness at all!! People get mad when you shove your nose into their business!!" Basically she is telling at me and I was called a bunch of names. Wonderful..... She doesn't even bother talking to the other kids, just singles me out because I was who he responded to, even though it could have been interpreted to the others. She is no better than the bullies who pick on me, but I won't tell my parents because my mom And I have never broken a promise to each other, and I promised her I wasn't getting bullied. I am so torn because it really hurt after what I go through ever day.

Anonymous said...

My daughter is a sophmore in a small community...she is an IEP student with behavioral issues. Everyday my daughter had been bullied by the math teacher..In my research I had found that this teacher had been bullying kids for over ten years. I tried to get my daughter removed from this class and all I received in response was this is the only class she can take. Unfortunetly my daughter took so.much abuse it added to her depression and she tried to commit suicide...the teacher is now gone after going to the school board but I could have lost my daughter and they wouldn't have cared just like they didn't care when everyone was telling them the things that he was saying and daughter is now being bullied from other staff members within the school...retaliation would be the appropriate word. It's amazing how the schools think they are above the laws because its just kids attending. By all means who will believe the kids....I am now fighting all I can to stop all of this....

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the advice! Well, I'm 17 and I'm on my first year of college. I love art so I decided to take an art and drawing class. The first day, when he asked my name, my professor made fun of my southern accent (my college is in the northwest), and then he asked us if anyone knew how to draw. I raised my hand and said that I knew a little about it. Everyone else didn't answer. After the class, my classmates told me that this teacher hates everyone who says they can draw, even a little. The next day I made a drawing and while he criticized everyone else work, he said he hated mine and that it hurt his eyes and I should distroy it. He always makes fun of my accent, and after that class I go home crying. I still love art a lot, but that teacher makes that class unbearable. He even told me my works were awful, even when some of those won awards. In my hometown I'm even recognized for my work, but for him they are worthless. I told my parents and they we're angry, because I've never been treated that way by a teacher.

Anonymous said...

I have the same problem but its my maths teacher she hates me i dont know why..i am shy i hardly speak..and one day she just entered the class and said i heard you speak and its been a week she's making me sit alone in the corner..amd my parents are not so umderstanding i dont know what to do :'( and the worst part is that when she's saying all that cruel stuff to me and making fun of me even my friends laugh with the rest of the class..:(

Anonymous said...

My son is being bullied by his 2nd grade teacher. He went from being very outgoing and silly in 6 months to being very shy. She calls him out and embarrasses him in front of other kids. Several times shes asked the special ed teacher to physically remove him from the room. They bodily drag him down the hall to the raft room. A small padded room kept uncomfortably hot so kids "wont want to hang out in there". Ive been through the school hierarchy. We got an outside socialcworker to see my son. Shes the one who told me she thought he was being bullied. Before that id punish him at home for being bad at school. After i spent half a day with him i saw it. She had 5 boys in tears incl my son. The school wont move him and as a single mom i have to work. The school system just ignores the teacher. So now ive got a son o cant touch or raise my voice to or he freaks out. I was finally told that the teachers union provides good lawyers and i probably cant afford one. I was even threatened with dcf when i wanted to pull my son out of school. I pay a fortune to live in a small town with good schools and this is what we get.

Anonymous said...

I was bullied by a teacher (I'm not going to mention her name because she was a favourite of the family and I'd get called a liar for sure if I did) but one day, I did exceptionally well in a test and instead of praising me, she said I must have been cheating and gave me a zero and a good whacking round the legs with a ruler. What made it even worse is that when I told my mother what had happened, she told me that she knew I'd cheated and I deserved all I got. I often ended up pretending to be sick so I wouldn't have to go to school

Anonymous said...

I had a teacher who hated me and I hated her right back (but I hid it perfectly) and I was constantly chucked out of the classroom for a noise that had been made in the back of the classroom and I had been in the front. Unfortunately, there were two choices. Either stay in that teacher's class or discuss it with the principal who was a nasty piece of work and I chose to stay with her