In this series, we’ve looked at bullying in schools. We’ve mostly focused on students who are bullied or who bully others, but research and interviews show educators and other adults often are relentlessly harassed by students, parents or other staff.
Experts said bullying of teachers by students, parents and other members is a widespread problem that’s driving some to leave the profession. The bullying includes snide remarks, threats or even violence from students.
Teachers across the county, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of repercussions at work, recounted stories of students calling them inappropriate names in class, starting rumors or bullying them through social media.
Reports show they’re not alone.
In a study of about 3,000 elementary, middle and high school teachers, 80 percent reported feeling victimized by students, parents or co-workers in the 2010-11 school year, according 2011 research by the American Psychological Association.
“Violence directed against teachers is a national crisis with far-reaching implications and deserves inclusion in the school violence equation,” said Dorothy Espelage of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a professor of educational psychology who authored the 2011 report.
The same study found many teachers had even been threatened with physical harm or attacked.
Of 3,000 teachers surveyed, 94 percent said they had been victimized by students — 44 percent reported being physically attacked and 72 percent reported harassment, while 50 percent said they experienced theft or property damage at school at some point in their career, according to the 2011 report.
News reports and education journals cite troves of examples of teachers who faced relentless bullying from their students, including students creating fake social media accounts to terrorize teachers or insulting them in classrooms.
Teachers reported students talking to them in threatening ways, making fun of their appearance by calling them “ugly” or “fat,” or making other dismissive comments, said Dr. Adiaha Franklin, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine.
Some teachers even had students threaten to hit them or otherwise harm them, Franklin said.
Franklin has interviewed teachers in her work who said athletic coaches sometimes became intimidating toward them when a student on the team wasn’t making the grades to play, she said.
“They’d say things like, ‘Are you really going to make him sit out? What can you do?’” Franklin said.
Those comments made some teachers feel like they were letting down the school if they didn’t comply and are a form of bullying, Franklin said.
A teacher in Texas City said she had witnessed a first-year teacher relentlessly bullied by students and parents. Students perceived the teacher as grading too strictly and many weren’t doing well in the class, the teacher said.
Some of the parents complained about the teacher and other teachers overheard students using pejoratives against her, the Texas City teacher said.
“It was an onslaught — they really teamed up on her,” the teacher said. “I’d see her crying sometimes after work.”
Add that to the stress of teaching — trying to ensure students are getting a good education, doing well on state tests and dealing with students who may have problems that are hard to correct — and it can be overwhelming, teachers said.
The 2011 comprehensive report posed possible solutions, including implementing state licensing requirements for educators to master classroom management training.
“Because professional training typically does not prepare teachers to deal with violence at school, most lack the skills to prevent challenging behavior from occurring and to respond effectively when it does occur,” Espelage said in an article for American Psychologist.
“As such, many teachers have been shocked by frequent violent occurrences in our nation’s schools during recent years and the far-reaching implications of violence.”
Because the bullying and violence is coming from students, the report proposed some ways to focus on reasons problems occur and try to prevent them.
The report suggested supporting community-based organizations, such as after-school programs, to create opportunities for early intervention and treatment of behavioral issues.