As a child & family therapist who has been in practice for over 15 years, it has been surprising how many children and families present with a depressed or anxious child only to find out that a contributing part of the problem is the way the child is being treated by their school teacher. So much focus and emphasis has been put on peer bullying, and while it is certainly a worthy problem that needs to be addressed, I’ve come to believe that focus also needs to be put on bullying that is done by school administrators and staff.
Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of excellent teachers out there. The good ones are easy to spot when you observe them in their classroom and watch how they interact with their students. I have great admiration for those teachers and love watching them in action. I often do classroom observations for my child clients and I have seen some fantastic teachers who are gifted at what they do and clearly have a passion for teaching and for the well-being of their students. Sadly, I have also witnessed many who are clearly in the wrong profession. In one instance a few years ago, I witnessed a special education teacher inappropriately man-handle a student while I was sitting right there observing. It was frightening to consider what she may be doing when no one else was present. I felt obligated to report that to the principal, but who knows what/if anything was done.
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I also understand that teachers have to deal with a LOT. Between the pressure from school administration and parents, the ever-growing size of classrooms, dealing with challenging behaviors, reduced resources and smaller budgets, I get it. It’s not an easy job! In my opinion, teachers should be among the highest paid professionals. For some reason, our culture values football coaches, sports programs, doctors, lawyers and actors far more then teaching professionals who have the greatest influence on generations to come. That’s a sad state of affairs if you ask me. I believe teaching is probably the most noble profession there is. The lack of value placed on it transcends into the shortage of quality teachers and what I see as being the fast and inevitable break down of our current educational system. Sadly, the good teachers are leaving the profession in droves because of the poor pay, high demand and challenges of dealing with pressure for test scores without the necessary support and resources. This is part of the reason I assisted in the writing of and advocacy for School Choice legislation. I shared my story related to my son who has special needs and how school administrators attempted to bully me. I also spoke to the state legislators. The non-profit organization, Parents For Educational Freedom along with the support of the Friedman Foundation worked tirelessly to pass legislation that provides a $6,000 per year, tax credit to be applied for private school and/or medical bills related to raising a child with special needs. Hopefully, school choice will soon be an option for every student, as it will only require school systems to compete for tax dollars which will ultimately improve the quality of teachers and thus the education our children receive.
Teachers spend more hours in a week with a child then their own parents do during the school year. Taking this into consideration, one must not make light of the influence a teacher has on their students. In this role, teachers are in a position to profoundly impact their students academically and emotionally. Ask anyone, they can likely remember a teacher they admired and if there was one who took special interest in them or had a profound impact on them and how meaningful it was. Teachers have the ability to change the course of a child’s life in a positive way – and many have.
By the same token, teachers can have a devastatingly negative impact on children. Ask anyone to recall an incident that was humiliating or demoralizing by a teacher and most can, as though it happened yesterday. The sad reality is that studies have shown that teachers regularly engage in bullying behaviors. Jillian Wolf, a teacher herself who also trains teachers said the following in an article titled, “When the teacher is the bully”:
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