What If The Teacher Is The Bully?


Teachers and school administrators need to be held accountable for bullying they engage in.

“You all want to be teachers. We’ve talked about bullying, but what you probably don’t realize is that some of the biggest offenders of bullying in schools are the staff. That’s right. I’m pointing my finger at all of you and telling you now to be careful how you conduct yourself because your actions can be just as, if not more, harmful than the actions that these students deal with in their peers. I recently read a study that told me that teachers instigate bullying on a regular basis. The ways they do this are by ignoring children that are ‘dumb,’ laughing at the jokes children make at another child, feeding into the relational aggression a la Mean Girls by taking sides or allowing it in their classrooms, lunch rooms, gymnasiums and hallways, or, what I consider to be most hurtful, going into their teacher’s lounge and commiserating about children and actively working against the better needs of the child by making the child a pariah amongst the adults as well. They also do this by writing intentionally vague and negative comments that stay in a child’s report-card file until they graduate high school. This is all BULLYING and YOU are going to buy into it…unless you consider it and stop yourself now. You can do this with self-awareness and the knowledge that you will NOT be that kind of teacher and that you are teaching to make a positive impact and not crush a child’s will.”

In her article, Wolf goes on to share her personal story about how she was bullied by a teacher as a young child.

I have witnessed first hand parents being bullied by teachers and administrators in IEP (Individualized Educational Plan) meetings.  Just last year, I worked with a family who had been lied to for two years, being told by school administration that due to state laws their children did not qualify for services.  I finally called the school psychologist who stated the same thing to me.  I informed her of IDEA, which is federal law and mandates compliance by all states and that these children fell well within the bounds of that law.  Her reply was, “well, I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree”.   I let her know in that case, I would be advising my clients to speak with an attorney.  They had an IEP meeting scheduled within a few weeks.  Even more disturbing, was the obvious bullying that had been going on and was demonstrated in the meeting.  It became clear in the IEP meeting that this school had an atmosphere of bullying that trickled down from the top.  The principal was in this meeting and I was appalled at how she conducted herself.  There was also a clear sense of fear among the teachers.  It was obvious that this administration had no intention or desire to support these children who had traumatic brain injuries as the result of a serious car accident they were in years prior.  Worse, these children were being bullied by students, teachers and administrators and were deteriorating emotionally and physically as a result.
I myself experienced this years ago in IEP meetings for my son who has special needs.  A school administrator who held the title of “Compliance Specialist” and attended most of the IEP meetings for my son had this to say at a professional conference where he presented  for other teachers and administrators on “How to Hold a Legally Sound IEP Meeting” (at the end of his presentation he had a slide entitled “Gems You Can Say After the Meeting”:

• God I’ll need a drink after this!
• Your son is driving me to drink…more
• Boy the apple didn’t fall far from the tree!
• You are crazier than a bag of Planters! (meaning the parents)
• You’re the reason I’m on Prozac! (again, meaning the parents)
• Your son would be fine if he had a parent transplant!
• I might as well go to the mall today to buy my dress for court!
• I need to be excused from this meeting to puke!
• I didn’t know the truth could be stretched that far without breaking!
• Ma’am I don’t understand you because you’re not making sense!
• I don’t care what happened six years ago…
• Tell the truth, your family tree only has a few branches doesn’t it?
• Others?….You are welcome to share!

    (IDEA Reauthorization In North Carolina, Charlotte, NC.  February 3, 2006.  Conference put on by Lorman Education Services for educators.)

This was presented at a professional conference by a head administrator in the largest school system in NC.  Not only did he think this was acceptable but he thought it was funny!  These statements are perfect examples of the type of things bullies say, straight from the mouth of a school administrator!  I put the document in the hands of the, school superintendent at the time and the local newspaper.  The school system actually defended this administrator stating he was trying to add humor to his presentation and to my knowledge this man still has his job.  With this attitude at the top, is it any wonder children are bullied by teachers in schools and that bullying has become such an epidemic?  The example is being set and the behaviors are being modeled by the very people we entrust to have the best interest of our children at heart.  When administrators and teachers have this type of mindset it provides fertile ground for creating a culture saturated with and accepting of bullying.

It is unlikely that any student makes it through their 12 years of education without being able to identify a time they were bullied by a teacher or school administrator.   Those memories stick and leave lasting scars that can have serious consequences for a child.  These are the people we entrust to educate, protect and care for our children many hours a week.  Clearly, this is an issue that needs attention and parents need to know that just as it is not acceptable for them or their child to bully, the same holds true for schoolteachers and administrators. 

If you and/or your child are in a situation where they are being bullied by anyone at school, there are steps you can take.  Start, by speaking with the school principal.  If it is not handled appropriately or your concerns are minimized or discounted, take it to the school district Superintendent.  If it still isn’t handled to your satisfaction, you can file a formal state complaint with the Department of Public Instruction, however the resolutions are not legally binding, and school administration knows that, so it is also advised to file a complaint with the Federal Office of Civil Rights.