We’re willing to wager most teachers don’t pursue their careers to abuse their power. In fact, most are likely inspired by altruism to enter a field not known for high pay or prestige. And most teachers are positive influences.
But there are a few bad apples. While everyone openly discusses student-on-student bullying, we don’t talk a lot about when teachers are the bullies.
In a study “Teachers Who Bully Students: A Hidden Trauma” published in 2006 in the International Journal of Social Psychiatry,” 45 percent of teachers participating in the study admitted to having bullied a student.
Some were pretty defensive about it.
“Some teachers reported being angry at being asked the question, but more reflective teachers realized that bullying is a hazard of teaching, and that all people bully at times and are victims and bystanders at times,” according to the study.
Young students often believe teachers — the grown-ups in charge — have their safety and best interest at heart. That makes a bullying teacher all the more devastating and confusing to victims.
Most teachers might not think they’re bullies. But if they berate, intimidate, humiliate or physically harm a student, that’s what they are. Teachers, like most humans, will choose favorites or single out vulnerable students, maybe not even consciously.
And sometimes teachers turn a blind eye to student-on-student bullying, which can be as devastating to the victim. One survey showed adult educators and administrators intervened when a student was being bullied just 11 percent of the time, according to the report today in our ongoing series “Bullied to the Brink.”
Although there aren’t a lot of statistics on teacher bullying, educators acknowledge the problem and are willing to rectify it. Authors of the “Teachers Who Bully Students” study noted that the very openness of teachers by seeing and admitting to bullying suggested efforts to prevent bullying might be more effective and had the potential to improve the learning climate, academic performance and feeling of safety for students.
Locally, many teachers interviewed for this article said they wished they’d been trained to handle some situations, such as how to discipline students without belittling or publicly shaming them.
“There are little things we don’t realize could really hurt someone,” a longtime Texas City teacher said.
School districts can and should address the issue of teacher bullies as directly as they do student bullies.
“It’s not going to be a pep rally twice a year,” one pediatrician said. “Interactions and how we treat each other respectfully are going to be something we teach every day.”
Some teachers dedicate a part of the day to teaching students how to interact and be responsible people in social settings, experts told us. And those instructions can set the environment for a classroom and make it easier for kids to recognize mean treatment, either from other students or educators, they said.
Teachers, more than anyone, understand that a little education goes a long way.
• Laura Elder