When the Teacher is the Bully: 5 Steps to Advocate for your Child
Bullying is not only an issue in Oklahoma but also a national issue. Approximately 40 to 80 percent of school-age children experience bullying during their school careers. However, only 20 to 40 percent of bullying victims actually report it. As parents and caretakers, we entrust teachers, school counselors and coaches with the well-being and safety of our children. But what happens if the school employee is the bully? What should you do if the coach, counselor, teacher or other school employee betrays your trust by abusing or harassing your children?
Bullying in the Classroom
When my son told me he felt his teacher was bullying him and he felt targeted, I took it with a grain of salt. Sometimes, the word bullying is used too often, so I asked more questions to make sure he was not confusing being bullied or targeted with the teacher doing her job of encouraging him to do his work, answer questions and participate in class. Not for a second did I think his teacher was verbally abusive toward him. My son explained that after working hard on an assignment, his teacher snatched his work, and in front of the entire class, hollered at the top of her lungs, “Is this the best you can do? Because this is horrible.”
At this point, the situation was a teachable moment. I helped my son unpack his feelings and spoke to him about speaking to the teacher privately and explaining how that loud display made him feel. Later, I asked him if he had talked to his teacher, and he said the situation was worsening. Issues persisted and escalated.
After talking to him more about the situation, I realized it was time to give his teacher a call. After speaking to his teacher, I instantly felt what my son was experiencing. The instructor’s tone was extremely aggressive and defensive, and I noticed his teacher was displaying less than favorable behavior. In fact, as an educator, her behavior with my son was a disruption to his learning process. Bullying by school authorities is far more complex to identify, address and rectify because there is a false narrative that only children, not the adults in charge, are bullies. So, what do you do?
1. Open Communication
Always have an open, trusting dialogue with your children. Just asking them if they had a good day is not good enough. They typically all say “yes.” Try questions like: “What is something interesting you did today?”; “What was challenging for you today?”; “Who did you help today?”; “Who helped you today?”; “What did you talk about in geography class today?” and “Who did you play with at recess?”
Keep the dialogue going, and make sure they know they are always in a safe place when they speak to you.
2. Teach Communication
Students can start being bullied by authority figures as early as elementary school and continue to have experiences in high school. Unfortunately, people tend to think older kids must learn how to deal with this behavior. Schools should be safe places, and children should focus on learning and not worry about being bullied by people hired to keep them safe.
As parents and caretakers, we must equip our children with the ability to recognize when they are feeling uncomfortable and the courage to communicate that. Specifically, I told my son to say, “I am uncomfortable with you yelling at me. Please stop, or I must leave to talk to a counselor and call my mother.”
Document your communication with the school authorities and all instances of bullying. Write down the time, date and what happened. Stay objective and stick with the facts.
4. Take Action
This is a battle in which your child will need your full support. Ensure you have supportive parents within the school to talk to who will listen and lend advice or share their experiences. Follow the chain of command, meaning reach out to the teacher first and voice your concern. It’s always best to start with an email and request a meeting. Sometimes the situation can be handled with a simple meeting with the teacher.
If the bullying continues, email the assistant principal and the principal and voice your concerns. Explain the steps you have already taken and inform them of the outcome. Refer to your notes and evidence. Typically, they will set up a meeting with you, themselves, the instructor, a counselor and your child. If they don’t set up the meeting, request it. If the problem persists, escalate it to the superintendent and then to school board members.
I followed the above steps when my son was bullied by his teacher. So far, things have been better. Sadly, when school authorities bully children, students are in a vulnerable position, making it impossible for them to fight on their own. There is no silver lining in this situation, but there are action steps you can take. Protecting your child from a bullying school employee is challenging. Still, it is crucial to safeguard your child from continued trauma that can ultimately make them dislike the educational environment.