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J.C. Bowman: Bullying of educators

J.C. Bowman • Updated Feb 14, 2017 at 4:15 PM

Teachers are physically, verbally or emotionally abused in public schools on a regular basis by supervisors, colleagues, parents and students. Recently I participated in a television special on the subject in Nashville. As I prepared for the interview, I didn’t have to go far for research. Educators frequently call or email and tell us of their personal experience.

It is true, not everyone behaves badly, but it has certainly increased the last few years. The numbers are escalating. There are also numerous instances of cyber bullying by parents and students against teachers on social media. This is also growing.

Journalist Sarah Cassidy wrote, “Teachers are increasingly being abused online by their pupils’ parents – with growing numbers forced to endure personal insults, sexual smears and even threats.” 

In one urban district parents targeted the work place of the spouse of a school district employee. Ultimately legislation may be needed to combat this growing issue. And school districts must be willing to confront parents when this occurs through legal means, if necessary.

We encourage educators or any school employee who suffers an act of harassment, intimidation, bullying or cyber-bullying either by supervisors, colleagues or students to immediately report it to the appropriate school official in compliance with the procedures set forth in the school district’s policy. It is also important that they keep a record of the incident and the report. In our association, we like for members to also talk to our attorney for guidance if the situation has gotten out of hand.

Social media itself could help curtail cyber bullying by making sure anonymous comments are only allowed by people with legitimate, and verified, email addresses. In addition, educators should never “friend” or “follow” minors younger than 18, unless they are a blood relative. They should probably not be “friends” of parents of the children they teach.

Lastly, educators should be careful in what they post on social media. For example, no state of undress or adult beverages should ever be on display online. If you see an offensive comment, especially one harassing or bullying an individual, it is your duty to report it. Finally, you can block people from following you on Facebook or Twitter. Do not be afraid to use that option.

We see many children today who are raised in a culture of disrespect. Parents do not exercise appropriate authority; therefore some children do not exercise proper behavior or respect authority. That behavior is often extended to the classroom in many cases.

It is even more difficult, for example, when a 10-year-old regular education student witnesses a peer getting away with behavior that may get them in a lot of trouble. One of the unspoken issues in some cases, students with disabilities may not be disciplined as harshly as a regular education student, if at all. This is commonplace, especially when a child who does not display physical signs of a disability has a diagnosed behavior disorder.

The bottom line is teachers are increasingly being bullied by supervisors, colleagues, parents and students. Harriet Wallace of Fox 17 had the courage to dig into a real and timely issue where victims are often reluctant to come forward. My hope is other reporters will look into the issue as well. My guess is they will be surprised at what educators endure for a profession they truly love.

J.C. Bowman is executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville.

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