25 October 2010

Teacher Bullying

Perhaps you're looking at the title and wondering whether this would be a post about teachers bullying children or the other way 'round.  But it's about both!

I came across an interesting web article written about the problem of teacher bullying.  From other places on the web, I gleaned that about 40 percent of elementary teachers admit to bullying on anonymous surveys.  I'm not sure I buy this.  (And this is not to blame teachers only.  Please read on.)  When we discuss "bullying" and "abuse," we usually outline it as something that ought never happen and don't discuss the more subtle, "acceptable" bullying and abuse that happens every day.  The slight look.  The following the letter of the law when it's known that the transgressor simply made a mistake. The favouritism we express for one person over another and the positive FEELINGS we have for one child are going to be felt by another.  The other, less likeable child, is going to feel slighted no matter how well we think we're hiding those feelings.  Maybe often we don't mean for smaller things like this to set up a bullying climate, but it can. 

But clearly, when we have an easily-identifiable select group of teachers who are "the bullies" according to a good number of students... well... chances are that the teachers really are bullying in the classic sense of the word.  I would not hesitate to add that they are likely unaware of it.  The paper in question at no time discussed the more obvious bullying techniques of spanking, closet-locking and tying children up by teachers or staff, so I'm given to understand it's just the "look" and the mean or snide remark that can so devastate children that we're talking of here.

"In many schools – perhaps most schools – at least one or more teachers can be identified as abusive toward students. Students will be in substantial agreement about which teachers are high rate offenders. The same degree of agreement may hold true for the colleagues of these offenders. They too appear to know which colleagues are abusive. The public nature of bullying patterns increases the likelihood of consensus on those who are most extreme in their behaviors. Simply stated, the faculty and students within the institution often are in private agreement about who the few culprits are, and express deep frustration at feeling powerless to stop the problematic behavior.

"Those who bully students are not likely to be new teachers. Teachers who bully tend to be established and secure in their positions (taught five or more years). The reasons for this are not yet clear."

If I may hazard a guess, burnout is only one possible consideration.  Another is that older teachers may have less training in how to deal with the disabled children who ARE being mainstreamed through school.  Certainly the teacher who was unable to handle my son was three years from retirement.  There were many students who absolutely loved her.  And she was a good teacher... of neurotypical students without "discipline" or behaviour issues.  If you read the article I linked, you'll see that often there are students who are the "targets," and no one will defend them because they really WERE kinda bratty or naughty.  Who wants to go up to bat for someone who is perceived to be not-so-innocent? 

When we talk about "safe schools," though, I think we should also be talking about ways to make the teachers feel safe.  I think the young lady with the white beret and sarcastic talk is perfectly within her rights to say what she feels, even if it's a bit mean and unkind... but some of the other videos linked here are disturbing!  If I were a teacher, and some children were destroying effigies of me on youtube, I don't think I'd be wanting to teach them in class the next day.  I don't know how teachers negotiate their contracts or what THEY feel would be reasonable expectations of privacy and safety (so I can't particularly comment on how to "fix" this) ... but I don't think I could teach some of these kids.  At all.

And can I say that some of the comments about this being just kids getting their anger out are also disturbing?  Expressing your anger in a public place like that is just NOT ok. Punch a pillow at home and don't let others hear about it.  Good grief.  NOT ok, you guys.

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