My second grade teacher considered left-handed kids mentally deficient. She assigned me and two fellow lefties to the Turtle table; everyone else was a Rabbit. Rabbit classmates taunted me and I came to equate left-handedness with stupidity. The teacher called the turtles stupid, admonishing us not to tell, because everyone would know we were stupid. I obeyed, although nightly crying spells told my parents something was wrong.
School Superintendent Newman Smith, a member of my church, had known me all my life. One Sunday he asked my mother “What’s wrong with Annetta?” The next morning, he visited my class, folding his 6’4” frame into the tiny chair beside me. We didn’t talk — I was terrified the teacher would think I broke the silence. He recognized a teacher bully, and immediately moved me to another class, although I wasn’t told why.
My new classroom climate was completely different; sunny instead of dark, relaxed instead of tense, with classmates who offered kindness instead of taunts. I felt safe – and tears flowed all afternoon. Mrs. Blaylock, an amazing teacher, rebuilt my confidence.
We know bullying is bad, but what happens when the bully is the teacher?
I have deep respect for teachers; most are altruistic and they receive less recognition than they deserve. Teacher bullying, though rare, has serious implications, not just for bullies’ targets, but also for the school climate.
In May 2014, a kindergarten teacher in Wharton, OH, was suspended for 10 days after a security camera caught her lifting a little boy by his shirt and pinning him to a wall. In 2013, a San Antonio jury convicted a kindergarten teacher of official oppression, a felony in Texas, after she lined up 24 students and made them hit a six-year-old boy who reportedly hit a classmate. In 2011 in Roane County, TN, a kindergarten teacher lost patience with a six-year-old whose desk was untidy, calling him a pig, allowing classmates to surround the tearful boy and make pig sounds.
How can young children defend themselves against these actions? Teachers are bigger than their small charges. Children are taught to obey authority, and young children with one teacher are most at risk. Teachers are human, and they sometimes abuse their power.
Teacher bullying is defined as non-sexual abuse of power over students by teachers. Stuart Tremlow, a psychiatrist who researches teacher bullying, published a survey of 116 teachers at seven elementary schools. Seventy percent of the teachers said bullying was isolated, although surprisingly, 45 percent of the teachers admitted to having bullied a student. Respondents called teacher bullying an ‘undiscussable’ topic. Tremlow’s research revealed most teacher bullies were bullied themselves; some were bullied by administrators or by other teachers.
Although research on teacher bullying is sparse, Dr. Alan McEvoy, author of Teachers Who Bully Students: Patterns and Policy Implications, surveyed