How to Handle and Mitigate Teacher Bullying

Misty Hance
Misty Hance
Assistant elementary school principal; Ed.D. in School Leadership, Carson-Newman University, TN
One teacher aggressively talking to another teacher.

Often in schools, educators are trained to watch for signs of bullying in students. They know what to do when it is reported and how to follow through with discipline. The problem arises when a teacher is the one being the bully. Often, administrators are at a loss for how to handle teacher bullying.

What Exactly is Teacher Bullying?

A teacher bully is someone who uses their authority to repeatedly verbally, emotionally, or physically dominate over someone else. A teacher bully may single out other teachers, or they may focus on students in their charge. Their repetitive actions may include ridiculing, isolating, cyberbullying, or inflicting pain on the victim.

Impact of a Teacher Bullying Another Teacher

While many educators are trained to collaborate and share ideas, some have a difficult time getting along with peers. Instead, they may insult, ridicule, tell lies about another’s actions, or even aggressively harass another teacher. When a teacher repeatedly acts in a way that physically, emotionally, or verbally attacks another teacher, then a bullying situation is at hand.

The impact of teacher on teacher bullying can cause the victim to become ill, lose confidence, and dread coming to school. It can even effect the victim’s ability to teach the students in her class.

Impact of a Teacher Bullying Students

When a teacher bullies students, it may be harder to recognize. It is natural for a teacher to be the disciplinarian and dole out homework, so spotting excessive or singled-out aggression may be difficult. The teacher may defend herself saying she is “strict” or has “high expectations” when the truth is, she is using her authority to intimidate children. Sometimes, it becomes a difference of opinion where often the teacher is seen as the one telling the truth because adults are assumed to be more honest.

The impact of a teacher bullying a student can be detrimental for years to come. It can cause low self-esteem in a student who is constantly belittled, it can cause a distrust of adults and authority figures, and it can even cause physical harm or illness.

What to Do if You are the Victim of or Witness Teacher Bullying

Document

As with any type of bullying, administrators and other teachers should document what is occurring and how often. Avoid opinionated words and write down the facts in the victim’s own words.

Know the Law

Just as educators are trained to keep up with Special Education Law and other laws pertaining to education, they should stay abreast of state and local laws dealing with bullying. An educator should understand victim rights and how to properly report a situation as well as time frames and actions that should be followed by administrators.

Consider the Means of the Behaviors

It is not always easy to figure out why a teacher feels the need to intimidate others. Sometimes the bully may feel inferior to or jealous of the victim. In this instance, it is easier for the bully to insult the victim or punish them in some form than to acknowledge the efforts of that teacher. Likewise, a teacher may find herself in a personality conflict with a student or peer and lash out to prove their authority. Understanding the means of the behavior can help stop it.

Follow the Chain of Command

It is important that the victim keeps her administrator informed. The teacher will want to share any documentation. However, if things don’t improve, a teacher may need to file a formal complaint at the district level.

How to Handle and Mitigate Workplace Bullying

As administrators, reports of teacher bullying, just as student bullying, should be taken seriously. There are a few important steps to properly handle any reports of bullying by a teacher.

Listen to Both Sides

Whether it is a teacher, a student, or a parent reporting the incidents, it is vital that the administrator listen closely. In the beginning, the administrator must gather information and refrain from passing judgement too quickly. It is also important that the administrator get all sides of the story. Without using names, the administrator should tell the accused bully that a report has been made and listen to any information that could be shared by the accused.

Document

Most administrators know the importance of documenting reports made by others. This is a time to be most vigilant in note taking. Administrators should collect evidence from the victim, the accused, and any witnesses, making sure to note times, locations, and events in full detail.

Make Your Presence Known

It is imperative for an administrator to make her presence known to both the victim and the accused. Frequent walk-throughs can be done within the classroom and mini-observation of the accused and of any interaction time should be recorded as well.

Make Changes

If the teachers work in the same grade, hall, or subject, the administrator might be able to move one to a different location. Student placement changes could also be provided.

Be Proactive

Providing professional development on what teacher bullying looks like and how to address it is just as important as educating on student bullying.

Be Supportive

It is important that the administrator remains unbiased and support both the victim and accused as necessary. The saying “innocent until proven guilty” goes in bullying as well. Until all the information is gathered, both parties must be equally supported by the administrator. In some instances, the stated accused may in turn be the victim of an intentional attack.

Teacher bullying may look different from student bullying, but it needs to be taken just as seriously. Victims must understand they do not have to suffer in silence. Administrators must understand they have the responsibility to investigate, report, and stop repetitive actions. Bullies must understand their actions will not be tolerated. Educating young people can be stressful enough without workplace bullying being an issue.

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