Signs Your Child's Teacher Is a Bully

Signs Your Child's Teacher Is a Bully
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The majority of teachers genuinely care about their students. Although they may have the occasional bad day, they are kind, fair, and supportive. However, almost everyone who has been a student in a public or private school classroom has experienced mean teachers.

In some cases, the alleged mean behavior is merely a personality conflict between the teacher and student. In other cases, a teacher’s irritability may result from burnout, personal or work-related stress, or a mismatch between their teaching style and the student's learning style.

However, there are cases where the mean behavior crosses the line, and the teacher becomes the classroom bully.

What Is Teacher Bullying?

In an anonymous survey whose results were published in 2006, psychologist Stuart Twemlow noted that 45% of the teachers surveyed admitted to having bullied a student. The survey defined teacher bullying as:

“...a teacher who uses his/her power to punish, manipulate, or disparage a student beyond what would be a reasonable disciplinary procedure.”

Teachers may bully students for several reasons. One is a lack of training in proper discipline techniques. Failure to provide teachers with appropriate, effective disciplinary strategies may result in feelings of frustration and helplessness. Teachers who feel bullied in the classroom by students may be more likely to bully in retaliation. Finally, teachers who experienced childhood bullying may turn to those tactics in the classroom.

Parents or school administrators usually address physical altercations between students and teachers. However, behaviors such as verbal, mental, or psychological abuse may be less likely to be reported by the victim or fellow students and teachers.

Examples of Bullying

  • Belittling or intimidating a student
  • Singling out one student for punishment or ridicule
  • Humiliating or shaming students in front of classmates
  • Yelling at a student or group of students
  • Using racial or religious slurs or other forms of belittling a student based on gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation
  • Sarcastic comments or jokes about a student
  • Public criticism of a child's work
  • Consistently assigning poor grades to one student on objective assignments or projects

If your child complains about any of these behaviors, look for other signs of teacher bullying.

Signs to Watch For

Many children won’t report abuse to parents or other teachers due to embarrassment, fear of retaliation, or concern that no one will believe them. Minority or special needs children may be more likely to fall victim to teacher bullying. Surprisingly, high-performing students may be at increased risk of harassment by insecure teachers who feel intimidated by these students.

Because children may not report teacher bullying, it’s important to pay attention to clues that it may be happening. Look for some of the common signs that your child's teacher is a bully.

Unexplainable ailments

One telling clue that something is amiss is a child who used to enjoy school suddenly making excuses to stay home. They may complain of stomach aches, headaches, or other vague ailments to avoid going to school.

Complaints about the teacher

Some children may complain about a teacher being mean. Often, this complaint is nothing more than a personality conflict or a teacher who is more strict or demanding than your child would like. However, ask questions and look for subtle clues that may indicate a more severe situation. Ask your child to explain how the teacher is mean or give specific examples. Inquire if other kids feel the same.

Pay particular attention if the complaints about the teacher being mean include yelling at, humiliating, or belittling your child (or others).

Changes in your child’s behavior

Look for changes in behavior. Victims of teacher bullying may have angry outbursts at home or temper tantrums before or after school. They also may appear withdrawn, moody, or clingy.

Negativity toward self or schoolwork

Pay attention to self-deprecating comments or excessively critical statements about the quality of their schoolwork. If your child is usually a good student and suddenly starts complaining that they can’t do the work or their best efforts aren’t good enough, this could be a tell-tale sign of classroom bullying. You should also take note if your child’s grades start dropping.

What to Do If You Suspect a Teacher Is Bullying Your Child

Parents may be somewhat reluctant to report bullying behaviors by their child's teacher. They often fear making the situation worse for their child. However, if a teacher is bullying your child, it is vital that you take action.

Support your child

First, talk to and support your child, but do so calmly. Angry, threatening, explosive behavior may frighten your child even though you’re not mad at them. Let your child know that you believe them. Normalize the situation and assure your child that you will take action to stop the bullying behavior.  

Document all incidents

Keep detailed written records of all bullying incidents. List the time and date of the incident. Describe exactly what happened or what was said and who was involved. List the names of any other teachers, students, or parents who witnessed the encounter.

Understand what legally constitutes bullying in your state

Check bullying laws by state so that you understand what actions are considered bullying. Investigate how the school is expected to address such conflicts. Many states' bullying laws are focused on students bullying other students, rather than teachers bullying students, but the information you uncover may be useful in your situation.

Meet with the teacher

Depending on the severity of the bullying, schedule a meeting with your child’s teacher. Speak to the teacher calmly and respectfully. Give your child's teacher the opportunity to explain their perspective. There may be reasons that the teacher appears to be singling out your student and coming across as mean or angry. Perhaps there are behavioral issues or personality conflicts that you, your child, and their teacher can discuss and resolve. 

Ask around

Ask other parents if their children have similar complaints about the teacher. Ask other teachers if they know of any problems with your child and their teacher or have concerns about the teacher's behavior in general.

Follow the chain of command

If you are still concerned about the actions of your child’s teacher after speaking with the teacher, other parents, and other teachers, follow the chain of command until the situation is addressed and satisfactorily resolved. First, talk to the school principal. If the issue remains unresolved, contact the school superintendent or the school board.

Consider your options

Sometimes, the best action is to request a transfer for your child to a different classroom. In extreme cases, especially if the school administration is not adequately addressing the bullying situation, you may want to consider transferring your child to a different public school, moving to a private school, homeschooling (even if homeschooling isn’t a long-term solution), or online schooling.