Don’t Bully Teachers

We as teachers talk to our students about kindness and respect all the time. We plan lessons, read books, and role play with our students about friendships and what to do if they encounter bullies. We have conversations with students who are struggling with being picked on or bullied, and we have conversations with students who are being bullies. We are surrounded by talks of socio-emotional growth, conflict resolutions, and standing up for oneself, and yet many teachers are bullied on a daily basis without the ability to do anything about it.

We have known many teachers and have experienced being bullied by the parents of students. As we wrote last week, “Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.” (Stop Bullying). When we say teachers are being bullied, we are not talking about a one-time incident where a parent becomes upset and sends an unkind email or phone call. Although neither of these are the nicest things to send to a teacher, what we are writing about are parents who find fault with everything that the teacher is doing, send email after email of criticism, make call after call complaining, or say unkind thing after unkind thing. That is bullying a teacher, and that is, simply put, not ok.

The emails where our assignments or projects are criticized, our techniques, classroom management, or lessons are scrutinized, parent conferences where our expert advice is not only question and challenged, but demeaned, and the gossip and negative talk about teachers all have a detrimental effect on mental health. And unfortunately, there is not much we can do about it. Unlike another profession where a doctor can refuse to see a patient, an architect can refuse the project, or a chef can comp a meal and move on, teachers have a whole school year where they have to remain professional while being bullied. 

We hear a lot about what bullying does to children and adolescents, but we don’t hear much about what it does to teachers. It causes anxiety, loss of sleep, high levels of stress, affects mental health, it really hurts and brings teachers down. And yet educators persevere, talk and cry it out with teacher friends, and then do the same thing with their family at home. They show up for their students every day in the classroom and continue to plan lessons, activities, and projects. They put on a happy face, teach and love their kids because that is what teachers do. 

If you are a teacher who is being bullied this year please know that it is not your fault. You are trying your best and working your hardest. We know it is difficult, but try your best to leave school matters at school. Take a walk, workout, or do an activity that brings you happiness after school. Don’t check your email at home, you don’t want to feel sad or upset at home when you are in your safe space with your family. You do not deserve to be bullied because you are doing challenging and important work in our society. Your students love you and they appreciate all that you do.

If you are a parent and you have an issue, question, or are upset about something, please address teachers with respect. Take a breath before you write a scathing email. Ask for a meeting after a few days when you are calm. Approach the situation by thinking about what you tell your children to do when presented with a conflict. Remember, your children are watching you and your actions. If you are telling your children to be kind and respectful towards others, then you should likewise be kind and respectful towards their teacher. Children learn from your example, don’t be a bully.

Teachers are professionals in education. They deserve respect. They are also people with real feelings. Bullying teachers is not acceptable. 

Bullying: What It Is and What It Isn’t

Bullying is a very serious issue and we feel it is something that no child should ever face. However it is important to understand what bullying really is and what it is not. 

In recent years there has been a trend to label any conflicts that arise between children as bullying. Whenever one child does or says something to another we will often receive an email, a call, or a classroom visit where the word “ bullying” is freely used.

According to Stop Bullying “Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.” So, bullying is a repeated aggressive behavior toward another. An example of this would be a 5th grader who calls a third grader unkind things for a long period of time. Another example would be a 2nd grader, without special needs, who hits their classmate over and over again. When the behavior does not stop it is considered bullying. 

Bullying is not a child who calls a child a name once or twice. Bullying is not a child, who in frustration, pushes or puts their hands on another. We are not saying that either of these things are correct or acceptable. They are not ok, and the school should take steps to stop them from occurring again. However, they are not bullying. These are common conflicts that occur and should be handled with care and taken as learning opportunities. Children should be able to make learning mistakes without being labeled a “bully.” 

We know that it is hard for children to experience unkind behaviors from others. And it is really hard for parents to see children hurt or upset. Just know that all children will experience someone who doesn’t want to play with them, someone who says something mean to them, or a friend that betrayed their trust. These are hard growing pains of childhood and adolescence. They are also a necessary part of learning that enables children to navigate these types of challenges that they will have to face throughout their lives. 

As hard as it is, we can tell you that it doesn’t help children when parents and educators solve all of their problems for them. It does a disservice to real bullying situations when we over label things as bullying. We have to make it clear to our children what bullying is and what bullying is not. And when a situation is not bullying, we need to equip our children with the tools to navigate these challenging social dynamics instead of trying to step in and save the day. 

If your child comes to you with a social challenge, here are some things you can ask them:

How many times has this happened?

Have you told this child to stop the behavior?

Have you talked to your teacher about it?

Take some time to monitor the situation and if it does seem to be a repeated behavior that isn’t stopping, then contact the teacher. But if it is a safe situation, it is better for the child to talk to the other child to try to solve it, and if that doesn’t work, you can encourage them to talk to their teacher on their own. You can even email the teacher to give them the heads-up that your child will be coming in to talk to them, so that the teacher can make themselves more available. Children really love to solve their own problems when given the opportunity. It can be very empowering and help give them confidence. Many times, it’s just a matter of giving them tools on how to handle a new situation.