In Their Own Words: Teachers Bullied by Colleagues | Edutopia
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"When I came back one day after lunch, the warehouse people had axed the reading loft [on the principal's orders] . . . This was only the beginning . . . He stripped away everything that made my room unique . . . I want out." - Teacher

"I would take the dog for a walk and cry in the dark." - Australian Teacher

We’re used to media reports about children and teachers who bully students. A more hidden fact of school life is the extent to which teachers suffer at the hands of cruel colleagues and administrators. One in three teachers claim they have been bullied at work. In Part I of a two-part post on the subject, I will share the voices of teachers who describe being bullied by colleagues. Part II will discuss solutions.

The Targets

The following must be present for negative actions to be labeled bullying, writes Clemson University Professor Kimberly Frazier:

  1. An imbalance of power between the perpetrator and victim
  2. Systematic and long term attacks
  3. Those being bullied finding it difficult to defend or retaliate against those inflicting the bullying behavior

Bullied teachers are not professional victims. "A typical target is conscientious, competent and well liked by colleagues, pupils and parents," according to TESConnect. The principal of a popular instructor bullied her for months. "Jan" told me that his most creative ploy was to make her sit in the lobby adjoining his office while he pretended to talk on the phone with a parent complaining about her professional skills.

Later, Jan asked, "Who criticized me?"

"She wants to remain anonymous."

"What was the specific complaint?"

"She wants me to keep that confidential, in case you trace the comment back to her."

"That's not fair!"

"You're lucky to have me talk through this with you. Some principals wouldn't be so helpful."

Where power inequalities manifest, bullying is more likely to occur. As a university supervisor in three different states, I pulled several secondary English interns out of their placements and had them finish student teaching in alternative settings when their clinical teachers crossed the line.

Of the nine veteran and novice teachers I interviewed, only two reported the incidents to authorities, fearing that they might lose their job or simply not be perceived as credible. I've made minor changes to the stories to safeguard the authors' identities.

Marsha's Story

Marsha and Samantha co-planned middle grades language arts. Samantha was the team leader, the spouse of the assistant principal and influential at the school. At first, their professional relationship was friendly. And then . . .

Every time we sat down to plan, Samantha would push all of the more time-consuming and less interesting work on me. When I started to out-perform her, she began to resent me. She would regularly make condescending and deprecating comments in front of students, parents and colleagues. She would steal my lesson plans on the day that I was planning on doing them.
As the team leader, Samantha was supposed to go to liaison meetings and report back with information from the administration, but she would often purposefully "forget" to tell me, and I would look incompetent. She would take my personally created resources and pass them off as hers in front of our superiors. When we were together with the students, she interrupted me, second-guessed my information, and questioned my authority. Students would ask a question and she would directly contradict my answer. I thought I was paranoid, but when I walked in on Samantha and a colleague talking about me, I realized that her behavior was intentionally directed at me.
During special events like field day or the team talent show, she would literally sit in the back while we wrangled students and ran the event. Whenever administrators came in, Samantha would act like she was running everything and pretend she had coordinated the whole thing.
She made me feel like I was less than a person and a useless teacher. As a new instructor, I kept my mouth shut and tried not to make waves. The bullying lasted for two years. I dreaded going into work. I would sit in my car and work up the courage to walk in the building . . .

Shanequa's Story

My first year, I was assigned a mentor who would report every mistake I made to the assistant principal instead of offering me help. When I asked for advice, she would go straight to the office. The only teacher in the building who assisted me with classroom management was directed not to help me during planning because "we taught different content." I was discouraged from trying new ideas or technology that differed from what the teacher with the highest test scores used. Later, the AP was promoted to principal, and he still treats me as if I am completely incompetent, regardless of my high evaluations and (unofficial) leadership and social capital.

Jennifer's Story

A violent high school student lived across the street from the school in a house with firearms. One day, after several outbursts, he threatened his teacher. Jennifer's coworkers failed to support her.

"Man, I wish I had my shotgun right now." I was stunned (as was the class). I told him to get in the hallway and that I was going to have to write him up. In the hallway, he flew into a violent rage. I ran back into my room, closed the door, and called the administration. It took four hours to get him to the front office. The whole time, he yelled, "Just let me get home!"
He was charged with communicating a threat and disorderly conduct. But because he was labeled EC and had reached his ten-day suspension limit from previous infractions, he returned to school after only one day of suspension.
The student continued to harass me. He stared at me in the library and in the hallway. He came into my classroom, just looking, and he continued to make threatening comments. I pleaded with my administrators to make him leave. But the parents did not want him moved and threatened to sue. They brought a lawyer to IEP meetings, which I was never told about until later. The school was very interested in sweeping the whole thing under the rug. They actively prevented me from attending meetings about the issue and even suggested that I transfer to another high school if I felt unsafe.
The day he came into my classroom while I was alone during my planning period was my last day at Ridge High School. He never did anything physical to me, but I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and experienced a level of anxiety that you could not imagine. The thought of returning to work literally made me feel like I would pass out. I got along really well with my colleagues but was surprised that many of them turned their backs on me when I left. My very close friends supported me, but many others didn't. I guess I felt a little bullied by them, too, in the end. I left a lot of unfinished work behind, but it still really hurt my feelings that I didn't receive their support.
I felt so betrayed for being virtually forced to leave just so that the school could avoid a lawsuit and appease crazy parents. I have shared this story with the EC chair, the Superintendent, the School Board, and the State School Board, but they have not been concerned. The fact that they would let me leave (a hard-working teacher who put in seven good years) to keep a violent student really shook my whole identity. Teaching is who I am. I felt like I was missing an appendage during the months that I was out of work.

Matt's Story

As a new teacher, I encountered a bully -- my department chair -- though at the time, it never occurred to me to attach a label to the two years of misery and dread I experienced. Because Benton didn’t look like Keyser Söze in his pressed Dockers and polo shirts, and because he could light up a room with boyish charm, the act of trying to figure out when and how he would publicly excoriate me for following his exact instructions was crazy making.
When my friends advised me to ignore him, I said, "You focus on work, knowing there's an invisible cobra loose somewhere in your office." Every weekday morning, I would pull into the parking lot at the school building and listen to Alanis Morrisette's Uninvited CD repeatedly until I could slow my breathing and pretend I was unperturbed. When another bullied colleague and I both quit at the same time, the school asked us to give exit interviews. Based on those conversations, the chair was terminated. That happened years ago. I still feel guilty; my brain can't fathom anyone being that inappropriate. It's easier for me to go to an emotional place where I'm the one to blame.

Symptoms and Remedies

The aforementioned stories involved weeks and months of lost productivity, and feelings of depression and betrayal, all because of the bully's methods:

  • Ridicule
  • Exclusion
  • Aggression
  • Abuse of power
  • Assigning inappropriate or overwhelming tasks
  • Hiding information with a result of poor performance
  • Shaming

In Part II, this blog will discuss strategies for making teachers less vulnerable to aggressive workplace behaviors. If you'd like to share your stories or address the individuals who generously contributed above, please make use of the comment thread below.

Alternatively, send your story to me directly at, and I'll post them for you in the comment section to keep your identity private.

Comments (35)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Bonnie Yelverton's picture
Bonnie Yelverton
New job (2 years after credentialling) in Science in southern California

Good news!
I got a job! In the same district as this mentor teacher. Interestingly enough, the only administrative person from the school (and AP) is now at my new school. I was teaching math as student teacher, but now teaching science, which lends itself well to inquiry learning. The school seems to be friendly as well, so even though it's a 45 minute commute, I'm really pleased!
It shows that it's worth getting away from a bad situation if at all possible, before you get burnt out, and keep telling yourself you're right - while you continue to learn new methods as I have.
Of course not everyone has the option to just quit, but there are now online schools, etc. which might provide another option.

Ms. Smith's picture
Ms. Smith
HS English teacher

I was told during the first week of my first year teaching that my mentor was "sometimes difficult" Difficult was an understatement. She was an outright bully to me. She was so bad other teachers complained to administration about her actions. Nothing was done except that the Principal began to treat me with cold disdain. I wish I had seen this posting during that time. I had no idea how common her actions were. The best part of the year was when my students tested well on the state test and then gave me a round of loud cheers at their graduation. I didn't go back for a second year. I know I will never put up with that type of behavior again.

angelfire1712's picture

I had a wonderful special education teacher for my child who eventually quit because of the negative comments she'd receive from administration and other 'regular' teachers... I believed her because of the following. The elementary children were going on a bus field trip to the capital and they didn't really want my daughter and I going because, through my personal experience, they didn't think special needs children should be mainstreamed. The two regular male teachers who were present on the trip with their classes did the subtle ignoring us or making a wise cracker comment to any of my serious questions and treating my daughter as if she were a ghost; I was out there alone on that one and the special ed teacher eventually quit and moved away...I did open enrollment for my daughter to get away from the neanderthal mentality of this school system also. We need better administrators and if teachers find themselves in these situations, perhaps there are parent groups they could team up with to thwart this kind of disparity.. What they're doing is trying to create a C- environment so that these less educated and less creative teachers have a job. I was saddened to see what these teachers and administrators did to this special ed teacher but happy she made the decision to have to think about do no one any good trying to work, especially teach, in a hostile work environment.. At one point I had thought about teaching but after going through the public school system with my child..that blew that dream out of the water permanently.

Miss Old's picture

I haven't started teaching yet, but I have a similar experience from the corporate world. One time I had a horrible manager who undermined me at every turn. I couldn't do a single thing right in his eyes, and yet nearly everyone liked me (including junior management). Eventually, I complained to the administration and he was fired. My best advice to anyone who is being bullied is this: stick to your guns. Don't let anyone convince you your treatment is somehow your fault. Don't let anything they say or do to you be taken too personally. I found it was better to persevere than start over.

Ms. Cloot's picture
Ms. Cloot

One of the best books I read to help me through this is The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry. Why do many bosses seem crazy? Because they are! People with controling, manipulative personalities crave power in a way that the rest of us don't, and they are often successful.

Todd Finley's picture
Todd Finley
Blogger and Assistant Editor (Contractor)

Here is an email I received on September 25, 2014 by an educator who wishes to remain anonymous:

"I was a victim of bullying when I worked for [XXXX]. It all started when I worked for [principal's name]. He was paying students with LOW EOG scores to take the ACT. Why? Because the ACT wasn't being tracked by his school system. He also paid students with high EOG scores to take the SAT, thus artificially inflating his scores, and ensuring that he would receive a raise.

I should have known when teachers and students were telling me to "watch out" for this particular principal. He had a knack for threatening people, including telling our [XXXX] teacher that he'd be fired by any means possible unless his scores improved. Non-tenured teachers were constantly threatened with dismissal over discipline infractions. I received no less than 3 screaming rebukes after school within four months.

Luckily, I had other opportunities, and resigned. Sadly, the experience at [XXXX] still makes me a little paranoid at times. I always wonder when the axe is going to fall.

And thanks for writing this blog! Teachers need to know that they aren't suffering in silence."

mcg's picture

I'm a new teacher. I had excellent reviews from student teaching, and I was completely confident and excited to be starting this profession. I was lucky to be welcomed by a wonderful and supportive administration... lol wrong.

My colleagues were absolutely amazing, but the issue came from an assistant principal, who got into the heads of the rest of the administration (who were all TERRIBLE). It was her first year at the school as well and she would also be my evaluator. I thought I had scored. This woman seemed friendly and nice, and she was new as well, so I thought we shared a special bond as newbies. Man, I was so naive. Because she was new she felt as if she needed to leave her mark, so what better way than to attack the people who are new and non-tenured? I'm young, and I was assigned to what is known as one of the toughest classes to teach in the entire school because of the obvious tracking and SEVERE behavior problems. I was an easy target.

Though my students were though I loved them to pieces and they loved me. I had students tell me how I changed their school lives and got them to love a subject they previously hated. Parents would hug me and thank me and tell me how wonderful I was. My colleagues said I was one of the best teachers they had for that class, and they were constantly impressed over what I accomplished with those kids.

The new assistant principal hated me.

She ended up LYING on the entire evaluation, saying I didn't do things when I definitely did and I even outlined them out for her. I know I did everything she wanted to see, because I had asked her specifically want improvements she wanted to see from me, my mentor had her own meeting with her, and I had practiced the lesson in front of my mentor who designed it with me and said it was great. The students were absolute angels and did everything they were supposed to do. I was so proud of them! There was absolutely nothing wrong SO since she didn't have any data to make me look bad, what did she do? Lie and manipulate! She said I was ineffective at management because I didn't give detention to a kid who walked in late. She conveniently failed to mention on the evaluation that the kid came from a doctor's appointment... with an excused noted from the office............ (by the way, she didn't grade me on a scale like they're supposed to do. If I did one thing wrong, or if one thing wasn't textbook perfect, I was immediately marked ineffective, even if I did 38274309573589 other things in that category great).

I was also told I was ineffective at classroom management why? Because I HAD TO CALL PARENTS. That administration also got rid of suspensions half way through the year (thanks to her) and I couldn't get support from the administration for behavior issues because if I let them know there was a kid acting up, she would blame it on me. So it got to the point where I couldn't even give consequences to my students who were already behaviorally challenged, not even to call their parents! A couple teachers knew I couldn't do anything, so they would let me send kids to their rooms and they wouldn't say anything.

She also completely straight up lied and said I didn't do things (check for understanding) when 90% of my less was clearly and obviously....uh... doing those things... and I know because I did the same exact lesson for a couple other teachers and they all gave me positive reviews and the first thing they said? "wow! You checked for understanding a lot!" I even showed her my SCRIPT (because I knew she would lie) to show al dozens of higher order questions and discussions. At first I thought her evaluation was a joke. Could this woman be serious? It was either a joke, she was lying, or she honestly has no idea how to apply her knowledge to the actual classroom. I believe she was lying, because there were other stories of her lies going around. When I broke down her office and cried, pointing out that I was being attacked and she was lying, she said "you're resisting authority." I couldn't defend myself, because I did I was "resisting." She even manipulated me to sign the papers. One teacher she evaluated (who was her pet) told me that she told her she didn't have to sign if she didn't agree with it! I was told that I HAD to sign and that I had no choice! I couldn't leave that office until I signed. When I found out she manipulated me to even sign the papers I was furious.

She lied and twisted the stuff I said every day, and it got to the point where I had anxiety attacks driving to work every morning, I would lock my classroom door in fear of her, I had anxiety attacks AFTER work, and I randomly cried in the middle of class in front of very confused students.

I almost quit teaching after that first year because of her. Thankfully now I am at a new school, I'm appreciated, and I get support.

Eric's picture

For speaking up & making my personal space after work off limits to a teacher who previously decided to have a no contact rule I was let go. She had a large project & I offered to help, it didn't bother me that she just wanted to do it & it would be easier if left alone & uninterrupted. But the second her boundary lost its convenience at 7pm she decides she can come to where I live in an uproar. She wasn't correct by the way, the mistake was hers misplaced item not stolen. Wasn't the kind of thing worth stealing anyway, just a spiral bound note book.

Writergrrl11's picture

I appreciate reading this sort of thing. I've been bullied at work and it's the most debasing, demoralizing thing I've experienced to date.
It makes it hard to go to work every day, no matter how much I love teaching.

Todd Finley's picture
Todd Finley
Blogger and Assistant Editor (Contractor)

It's toxic and awful, Writergrrl11, and it shouldn't happen to anyone. We need to do better for teachers like you.

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