Principal Helpline: What if the Teacher Is the Bully?

The bully isn’t always another child.

Teacher Bully

Q

I’m principal of a K-8 building. Recently the parents of a third grader came to see me. They were concerned that their son Ernie had started saying he doesn’t want to come to school. His teacher is always yelling at him, he says, and worst of all, she makes fun of him in front of the other kids. The parents admit their boy is “kind of an itch,” but they suspect that Ernie may be right when he says that his teacher doesn’t like him. I’m wondering if his teacher is a bully. Any ideas?

A

We certainly don’t like to think about adults bullying kids, but your question reminds me of a similar experience I once had. I was making the rounds and I stopped outside a second grade classroom. The door was open, and I observed a teacher calling a student out in a way that I thought was embarrassing for the student.

Later, with my office door closed, I said, “You know that we don’t tolerate bullying in this school – not from kids, and certainly not from adults. I think you were bullying this child.”

“You don’t know what a challenge that kid is,” she said.  She paused. And then, to her credit she added, “But I should not have ridiculed him in front of the class. That was wrong.”

Sometimes teachers get frustrated with certain students. Often, the kid in question is an active boy – an “itch” as Ernie’s parents described him.  Some kids can really try a teacher’s patience. But there is an enormous inequality of power between teachers and kids in the classroom, and bullying is easy – and totally unacceptable.

Ask the parents to meet with you and the teacher so they can express their concerns to her directly.  The teacher will have the opportunity to talk about the child’s behavior in her class.  Oftentimes just putting the issue on the table brings an end to bullying behavior. No teacher wants to meet with parents a second time on the same topic with the principal present. You may want to follow up privately with the teacher to be sure the message was delivered clearly and that there is a plan in place to work with Ernie.

In my experience it’s not often that a teacher resorts to this kind of behavior, but it happens. And when it does, the best thing to do is to confront the problem head-on and be sure your faculty knows where you stand on the issue of bullying.

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Suzanne Tingley

Posted by Suzanne Tingley

Suzanne Tingley has been a middle/high school teacher, department chair, principal, and superintendent. She taught graduate classes in education administration for the State University of New York. She developed a series of education videos and has been a Scholastic Administrator blogger.

2 Comments

  1. […] I’m principal of a K-8 building. Recently the parents of a third grader came to see me. They were concerned that their son Ernie had started saying he doesn’t want to come to school. His teacher is always yelling at him, he says, and worst of all, she makes fun of him in front of the other kids. The parents admit their boy is “kind of an itch,” but they suspect that Ernie may be right when he says that his teacher doesn’t like him. I’m wondering if his teacher is a bully. Any ideas? Read More […]

  2. I am the director of Embrace Civility in the Digital Age. I conducted a survey of secondary students in 2015. I asked students how frequently they had witnessed a staff member be hurtful to a student in the last month. 42% indicated they had seen this.

    Those students also reported a significantly higher level of witnessing students be hurtful, bring hurtful, having someone be hurtful to them. And significantly lower level of effectiveness of a staff member responding to hurtful situations.

    A recent GLSEN survey reported a concerning level of students witnessing staff be hurtful.