In Their Own Words: Teachers Bullied by Colleagues
"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 following must be present for negative actions to be labeled bullying, writes Clemson University Professor Kimberly Frazier:
- An imbalance of power between the perpetrator and victim
- Systematic and long term attacks
- 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 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 . . .
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.
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:
- Abuse of power
- Assigning inappropriate or overwhelming tasks
- Hiding information with a result of poor performance
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 email@example.com, and I'll post them for you in the comment section to keep your identity private.