Bullying: A Big Complicated Problem with Many Simple Solutions

If each one of us untangled one string at a time...

Saturday, January 9, 2010

When the Teacher is the Bully...or When the Teacher's Behavior is NOT Acceptable

When I couldn't find any easy answers to the question, "What do parents and children do when the teacher is the bully?," I turned to someone I really respect in the field. Stan Davis, author of "Schools Where Everyone Belongs: Practical Strategies for Reducing Bullying" and "Empowering Bystanders in Bullying Prevention" to get some advice.

Stan's response:

"I would reword the question: What if a teacher is saying and or doing things to your child that you find unacceptable?

As with childrens' verbal, physical, or relational aggression toward peers, the word "bullying" is so emotionally loaded that it can make dealing with the issue more difficult.

The first step is to keep an objective, factual record of behaviors, dates, places, and witnesses. When you have a record of what you see as unacceptable behaviors, I would suggest reviewing the list with a few friends who have good judgment to make sure you are not over-reacting to teaching behavior that is not pleasant but is acceptable.

As I see it, every student will have some teachers and some work supervisors who they do not like. At the mild end of that scale, learning to get along with a somewhat unpleasant teacher can be a good learning experience. As with peer aggression, there are behaviors that a student should be expected to deal with. There are behaviors that a student should try dealing with for a while and for which a parent or guardian should then intervene. There are teacher behaviors for which a parent or guardian should intervene right away.

When it comes time for parent or guardian intervention with unacceptable behavior, I would suggest deciding whether it will be useful to communicate with the teacher her or himself or whether the parent or guardian should go directly to the principal. This decision would be based on the behaviors in question, on the student's degree of concern about possible retaliation, and with the family's past experience with the teacher or other educator.

In either case, I would suggest bringing in the list of behaviors and asking that they stop. It will help to have a list of positives about the teacher as well if possible. If meeting with the teacher leads to resistance or to no change, it is time to meet with the principal. In this case I suggest that people document the earlier meeting and ask the principal if the behaviors described on the list are acceptable to her or him.

If the administrator finds the behaviors unacceptable, ask for a plan to change them or protect your child from them. If the administrator finds the behavior acceptable and you as a parent do not, the next step is to move up the chain of authority in the school system.

It is often best to begin approaching teachers and administrators in a calm and nonconfrontational way, assuming that they want to know that a set of actions is having a bad impact on your child.

Tangled Ball follow up question:

What does a parent tell a child when their teacher is acting poorly towards them or for that matter, to someone else in the class?

Stan's answer:

"As with peer bullying, there is negative behavior kids should learn to deal with (maybe a teacher is a little brusque but not insulting, maybe the teacher isn't encouraging kids as much as your child would like, maybe the teacher doesn't give as much positive feedback as another teacher) - but the teacher has other strengths. In these cases I think we could point out that all teachers are different and that this teacher does somethings very well......

There is negative behavior kids shouldn't learn to deal with: being insulted or seeing another insulted, being told they are stupid or lazy (or hearing another child called that), angry yelling, etc....

In that case I think kids should know that not all adults act in a way that you as a family think they should and that when you as a family believe something is wrong you have to take action to make things better- just as if we don't like what our government is doing we have to make things better. In neither case do we have to tell the child or teen that the teacher is a bad person, rather that we find some actions unacceptable."

This is a tough one and the only thing I'd add is to try to lessen the child's stress. A laugh, a bowl of ice cream, a little help with homework or whatever your child needs to help fill their soul after they get the stuffing knocked out of them a little bit. It's like having a bad boss. Eventually and hopefully you get promoted or the boss leaves or there is some divine intervention before you hit retirement age. Luckily for a kid, the school year is 9 months and if you can keep them feeling ok about themselves, you're a step ahead.

I hope Stan agrees because he walks the walk every day.

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