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.