When you hear the word bullying, you probably think of children being bullied on the playground. However, teachers suffer from bullying just as much as the students they try to shield.
I Would Never Have Thought
When I came into teaching nearly two decades ago, I would have never expected myself to be the target of bullying. After going through teacher training I felt like the caped avenger of bullying, rushing to help any student I suspected of being bullied by adults or fellow students. During those days, bullying was a pattern of behavior we could easily see in our classrooms. Either it was the physical type that students suffered in the hallway or on the playground, or more subversive types of bullying, like notes or papers left behind in the classroom. Because it was so visible, it was easier to immediately address. Then along came the Internet and social media. This made bullying anyone, even teachers, a lot easier.
The Day-to-Day Bullying of Teachers
As teachers, we regularly get anti-bullying training to help us prevent it from happening with our students. However, in society at large, there doesn't seem to be much to prevent it from happening to us. While many years in the classroom have been calm 'bully-free' years I would say, I have not been 100% immune to it.
As teachers, the most common issue we end up getting bullied over is grades - myself included. Grades close, report cards go out, and then two or three weeks later a student realizes they didn't turn something in. Now we live in the age of digital grade books with daily parent updates, email, and all those other digital tools to help keep parents in the loop. However, for one parent I had, none of this was enough.
I was called into meetings over and over again with this parent to rehash the same issue. My principal, who was in his first year ever, would sit there as I was screamed at for hours at a time over this one assignment. He never said a word, no matter how loud or irrational she became. He just let it go on and on. Eventually, several weeks later, I changed the grade just to curb some of the bullying I was experiencing.
I was told that being yelled at was par for the course as a teacher. Which is to some degree true. In most cases, reason prevails, the truth emerges, and it all works out. However, sometimes it crosses the line into bullying when a pattern gets established. In my case it became regular screaming and emails over every little point deduction; it went on and on. Just as a child would react, so did I; bullying changed my life that year. I experienced the physical effects of headaches, high blood pressure, even stomach issues. I retreated in many ways from life, avoiding school activities unless required because I was afraid of running into this parent or hearing about it from other parents. Eventually I transferred schools to find one that I felt was more supportive of defending teachers against bullying. It turns out that the lack of support is fairly common across all fields when workers experience bullying. A 2017 survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute found that only 23% of employers help their employees who experience workplace bullying.
Teachers and Cyberbullying in School
I was extremely anxious about entering social media based on my own students' experiences. The year Facebook became popular among our middle school students, I genuinely lost track of how many girls had to visit our guidance counselors, and in some cases school resource officers, over issues of bullying on Facebook. So when a few years later I broke down and joined, mostly to stay in touch with family that was now far away after our move, I was wary. I didn't friend anyone I didn't know, made sure all my posts were set to be shared only with friends and would stay private, and didn't go anywhere near anything political online. I thought this would protect me from cyberbullying, but that didn't prove to be true in the long run.
Surviving Cyberbullying as a Teacher
My own experience with cyberbullying came during a year of turmoil in our school. As a teacher, you can relate - it was one of those years where new programs, standards, and new grading scales are rolled out, and you have parents who buck like a wild bull. Unfortunately, we also had a group of parents who had created their own little Facebook page to talk about our school and programs. Many teachers I knew were on the page, never commenting of course, but just to see what was being said. However, unhappy with the school's changes, those parents started to use that page as a forum to bully myself and other teachers. Suddenly, we found ourselves splashed across it names and all. A couple of students struggled on a test? They called out teachers, claiming we weren't teaching and all our kids were failing. None of us were immune to their rants, and some of us who had unwisely 'friended' the parents on Facebook were even being tagged in posts so they appeared in our feeds. It was a firestorm - and it went on for months.
To survive, the first step I took was to ignore it as we were encouraged strongly to do by our school district. Regardless of what anyone around me said was posted, I stopped visiting the page and reading what was being said. I just kept reminding myself that it was untrue, our administrators knew that, and that was a major step in defeating the bullying. I and many teachers I worked with unchecked our 'like' of their page, so we didn't see it pop on our social media accounts. Some teachers I knew left Facebook altogether, while others like me went through the process of unfriending, and in some cases blocking, certain parents to avoid being tagged. Unfortunately, nothing they said was considered 'bad' enough to get Facebook to intervene. Our administrators, however, took up our defense and after several meetings over a six month period managed to bring the worst of cyberbullying to an end. It was not easy, and it took the support of our school to help end it.
You Don't Have to Take Bullying
Sometimes I wonder why we train teachers to accept bullying as part of the job. In many job interviews, both in ones I have been applying for and others I was assisting with, we get asked as teachers how we deal with 'difficult' parents and students. The reality is that there will be times in your career when the 'difficulty' can easily escalate into bullying, and sometimes you don't even realize it in the moment. However, you have to remember you are not alone. Seek help from your school if you feel like those challenging parents and students are crossing the line and a pattern emerges. Be vigilant in getting help, and if the school won't help, seek help outside your school. While bullying in schools may be commonplace, it doesn't have to be common in your life.