4 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 his teaching 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 arm teachers with an arsenal of appropriate, effective disciplinary strategies may result in feelings of frustration and helplessness. These feelings can cause teachers to resort to intimidation tactics.

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.

Conduct that may cross the line and be considered bullying include:

  • 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.

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

Unexplainable ailments. One telling clue is a child who used to enjoy school suddenly making excuses to stay home. He 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 him or her 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 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 he can’t do the work or his best efforts aren’t good enough, this could be a tell-tale sign of classroom bullying.

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. 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 her. Let her know that you believe her. 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 him or her calmly and respectfully. Give her the opportunity to explain her perspective. There may be reasons that she 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 his 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 his 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 her and other parents and teachers, follow the chain of command until the situation is addressed and satisfactorily resolved. First, talk to the 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, if the school administration is not adequately addressing bullying situation, you may want to consider transferring your child to a different public school, moving to private school, homeschooling (even if homeschooling isn’t a long-term solution), or online schooling.