Q. I retired from teaching a few years ago because I was being bullied, not by the students, but by the administration. I was an excellent teacher and had few problems with discipline. After a confrontation with a star athlete, an administrator began to accuse me of “poor teaching and poor classroom control.” The harassment continued all year. Many of my teacher friends have similar stories. What can teachers do to defend themselves?
A. According to the George Lucas Educational Foundation, most teachers who are bullied by administrators are conscientious, competent, and respected by their pupils. Perhaps these teachers pose a threat in some way, as you did, by complaining about a star athlete or perhaps weak administrators have a fear of their own incompetency.
The Lucas Foundation gives some excellent suggestions of ways teachers can neutralize administrative bullying:
• Teachers should not become obsequious. Many people believe that if they are complementary of those in power it will eradicate problems. However, placating aggressors usually makes the victim appear weaker and harassment escalates.
• Do not allow the bully to dominant the conversation. For example, an administrator may say “Your students aren’t learning much.” Instead of going on the defensive, respond with “I don’t see it that way.” Any version of this usually stops the conversation. Never ask “Who told you that?” It will only extend the argument.
• If a teacher receives an unfair complaint, request that the administrator put it in writing. Ask that he or she be specific. This reminds the bully that the information can be shared with other administrators, the school board or lawyers.
If you are being bullied, it is important that you document each incident immediately. You can even record the conversation on your phone. Tim Fields, author of “Bully in Sight,” suggests that you contact a union or faculty representative even if you are not planning on pursing a course of action. If you perceive the problem to be threatening to your financial or emotional well-being, you should consult a lawyer for legal advice and a psychologist for emotional support.
Q. My 13 year-old-daughter doesn’t want to return to school because she was verbally bullied last year. Can you give her some suggestions for dealing with bullies?
A. Your daughter is not alone. According to recent statistics, over 75 percent of all high school students reported being verbally bullied. Spreading rumors, isolating others and making derogatory comments are usually the bullies’ weapons of choice. The following are some suggestions that may be helpful to your daughter and other teens:
• Don’t give the bullies a predictable reaction. Throw them off balance by smiling or shaking your head.
• Find your interest and pursue those. If you are happy with your friends and activities, the bullies will worry you less.
• Don’t be fooled if the bullies suddenly want to be friends with you. People who have verbally abused you are not your friends.
• If others are harassing you about making good grades, they are just childish. You will be ordering your fries from them 10 years from now.
• Tell your friends, family members, principal, school administrators, anyone who will listen, about the bullying. Do not remain silent.
• If the school administration does not listen to you or your parents, get together a group of others who have been bullied. There is strength in numbers.
• Don’t get physical. If bullies are physically threatening you, contact your parents, school administration and the police. Never threaten back!
• Remember these are NOT the best years of your life.
As a parent, be active in your teen’s school to be certain that the administration has a commitment to protect all students. Meanwhile check out the National Bullying Prevention Center on-line and the website paceteensagainstbullying.org.
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Nancy Ryburn holds a doctorate degree in psychology from Yeshiva University in New York City where she maintained a private practice. She now teaches psychology at Southeast Arkansas College. E-mail your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. The questions could appear in a future column. There will be no identifying information and all e-mails remain confidential.