When Students Bully Teachers

I dreaded 5th period. A student in the class seemed to have the mission of humiliating me in front of the class.

The attacks were personal and persistent and touched on subjects such as my bad taste in clothing, my stupid assignments, and my boringness. This student mocked my words, made jokes about me to other students, and refused to follow my instructions.

I felt powerless and bullied.

Can Teachers Even Be Bullied?

Many school districts have bullying prevention programs in place, but usually these programs focus on student-to-student bullying. In fact, it is controversial whether or not a teacher can actually be bullied by a student, since one component of bullying is the bully’s power over the victim. Since teachers technically have authority over students, it is difficult to argue that they are the victims of bullying.

But what if we feel bullied anyway?

6 Ways to Deal With Bullies

Last week I got the chance to see an excellent anti-bullying lesson, taught by the school counselor. She showed a video that gave students six ways to avoid being the victim of a bully. Here were the strategies (as I remember them):

  1.  Avoid the bully.
  2. Use body language to avoid looking weak.
  3. Agree with the bully, possibly using humor.
  4. Gather friends around you.
  5. Tell an adult.
  6. Confront the bully (verbally, not physically.)

Could these ideas be adapted to help teachers who feel bullied by students? If so, what might these strategies look like in a teacher-being-bullied-by-a-student situation?

Avoid the bully. Some teachers attempt to do this by kicking the student out of class or escalating the situation so the student will be suspended. I don’t recommend this, because it will only make the situation worse. But could you avoid situations that tend to trigger disruptive behavior? For example, does the student always disrupt direct instruction? If so, could you structure your lessons differently? Could you avoid interacting with the student by using aides, student helpers, and parent volunteers?

Body language. Bullies tend to pick on people who appear weak. Do you have a confident posture? Do you speak with a strong voice? Do you dress in a way that shows you value yourself?

Agree. I think this one can be fun, especially if you apply a little humor. Here are a few examples:

Student: You’re boring!
Response:  Thanks! I’ve worked for years to become this boring.

Student:  You’re stupid!
Response:  Oh my gosh, you’re so right! I guess I was too stupid to realize it until now.

Student:  (Mocking, eye-rolling, negative body language)
Response:  I think we all get it that you don’t like me, but telling me over and over is getting a little boring. Can we just agree to disagree, and move on?

Gather friends. If you are struggling with this student, chances are good others are, too. Instead of suffering in silence, talk about it and make a plan. Enlist the help of other adults in your building, such as last year’s teacher or other teachers in the student’s schedule. Is there an aide or volunteer who could pull the student out for one-on-one tutoring? Could you form a time-out-room agreement with another teacher? Could you form an emergency response agreement with a few other teachers and staff? Ask the counselor to visit from time to time? Ask the custodian if she might need a helper? Have the hall monitor/security come in, not to intervene, but just to be present and “see what the class is doing?” Could the parents of your bully be asked to volunteer? (Some of these suggestions will not be possible or allowed. Please follow your school’s rules!)

Tell an adult. Since we are adults, to us this could mean “tell an authority.” Supportive principals are an often-overlooked resource. Ask them for suggestions. Same goes for the counselor and/or behavior interventionist. Let the student’s family know what’s happening. Maybe a behavior support plan or an IEP is appropriate. Start documenting, and investigate your options. Your union may have resources, or be able to offer suggestions. Your state may have harassment laws that apply.

Confront verbally. I don’t recommend confronting students. However, I do think there is some power in having a conversation with the student to name what is happening. This can take many forms – a private conference, a class meeting, a behavior conference, a Restorative Justice circle… Just make sure to do this when you are not angry and when you have thought about what you want to say.

Have you ever felt bullied by a student, or seen a staff member struggle with this issue? How did you respond? I know this is a complicated topic, and I welcome your suggestions. Feel free to comment in our private Facebook group, or send me an email. You are not alone!

Now go create a great day for yourself and your students!

Katrina Ayres, Positive Teaching Strategies

Additional Awesome Teacher Nation Resources

Books

  • Create a Great Day for Yourself and Your Students
  • 5-Minute Classroom Management Hints
  • The Take-Charge Teacher
  • All The Ways I Screwed Up My First Year of Teaching
  • The Classroom Teacher’s Coloring Book
  • The Classroom Teacher’s Coloring Book, Volume 2

VideosAwesome Teacher Nation TV videos, including:

  • Why Threats and Punishments Don’t Work
  • Saving Time on Paperwork and Grading
  • 7 Strategies to Deal With the Pencil Sharpener
  • What’s the BEST Classroom Management Strategy?

Online Courses

  • Taming the Chaos: How to Create and Effective Classroom Routine
  • Making Money as an In-Demand Substitute Teacher
  • A Day in the Life of a Substitute Teacher
  • The Substitute Teacher’s Troubleshooting Guide

Gain Instant Access to the Awesome Teacher Nation Resources Library

With Solutions for Administrators, Classroom Teachers, New Teachers, Substitute Teachers, and more

Why a Successful Student Teacher Can Fail as a First-Year Teacher

All The Ways I Screwed Up My First Year of TeachingI was a very successful student teacher, but a complete failure as a first-year teacher.  How could a great student teacher become a horrible first-year teacher? Part of the problem was the success itself, which my mentor teacher created for me. In this excerpt from my first book, All the Ways I Screwed Up My First Year of Teaching, you’ll learn several ways that successful student teaching can actually harm your teaching career.

I gaze out over the sea of little faces shining up at me as I read aloud from a book about insects. All is peaceful and calm. Moments earlier, the office called to cancel an assembly, and I needed to quickly adjust. No problem for me, amazing student teacher I am! I can handle anything. I’m actually probably more like a “real” teacher than a student teacher. True, my cooperating teacher is in the room, but she’s not doing anything except smiling at me from time to time.

As a Student Teacher, Parents Loved Me

A parent of one of the more wiggly students walks into the room. The master teacher greets her, and invites her into the hallway for a little chat. Later, when the students are working on another project, she introduces us. I invite the parent to participate in class, and show her the box of volunteer work. Soon she is busy cutting out materials. I’m such a great teacher! Even the parents love me!

My Student Teacher Self Could Handle the Toughest Students

One of the students in “my” class is a runner. At six years old, he’s a refugee from a horrible situation in the Middle East, and he freaks out and runs out of the room any time he gets a chance. My master teacher attends meetings after school about him all the time. Other teachers in the staff room tell me they can’t figure out how I can handle it. I lower my eyes modestly. “It’s not really that bad,” I say.

Problem-Solving Was Easy When I Was a Student Teacher

One day I forget to plan a lesson, because I took a college exam the previous day. I don’t worry about it too much. I go to the cupboard of ready-to-go filler activities and pick one. No problem! Most people would be overwhelmed, going to college full-time, working part time, and student teaching. Not me! I have it handled!

Why a Successful Student Teacher Can Fail as a First-Year TeacherMy First-Year Teaching Disaster

Fast forward to halfway through my first year of teaching in Hawaii. The parents are upset with me, no one volunteers in my room, the students are far from angelic, and my desk is a huge volcano of paper, spewing student work and lesson plans everywhere.

What happened?

At first, I blame the school community. The principal isn’t supportive, the schedule is impossible, I don’t have enough plan time, I don’t have enough materials, and on and on. Later I blame the community at large. The people here don’t provide enough discipline for their kids at home, so they don’t know how to act at school. The people are prejudiced against me because I’m a “foreigner” from the Mainland. The people are too lazy to help out in the classroom.

The support provided for me during student teaching was invisible to me until years later.

None of this is true. The truth is, I wasn’t nearly as experienced a teacher as I thought I was, and I made a lot of mistakes an experienced teacher would know how to avoid. The support provided for me during student teaching was invisible to me until years later.

Watching An Expert Doesn’t Make You An Expert

successful-student-teacher2Before I took over her class, my master teacher set up discipline expectations for the students and taught them how she expected them to behave. She arranged the classroom to support the students in their learning, and she established the curriculum long before she gave me the insect unit to teach. True, I watched her, and she graciously explained what she was doing, but watching a demonstration is not the same as making it happen.

Think of a professional basketball player, dribbling between his legs, floating effortlessly to the hoop past three defenders, and making a slam-dunk. He can tell you all about his training program. He can even break down the moves for you and explain it all step by step. That doesn’t mean you can duplicate his results when he hands you the basketball.

Fool-Proofing for the Student Teacher

If the master teacher is any good, she isn’t going to let you fail, either. When you make a mistake, she’ll help you fix it, both for your sake and for the sake of her students. It’s like a parent teaching a little kid to swim. The kid might think he’s swimming on his own, but no one’s going to let him drown.

In the same way, my master teacher headed off many problems for me before they even developed. When she was in the back of the room smiling at me, she was working to create those filler activities for the closet. She was developing intervention strategies for the refugee kid, setting up the volunteer area, tactfully explaining my presence to the wiggly student’s parent, and finding insect books for the class library.

I’m glad I had a positive student teaching experience. I wouldn’t change anything about it, because it created in me the vision of myself as a successful teacher, a vision I clung to during the tough times. But I do wish I could somehow wave a magic wand in front of my New Teacher Self before she started teaching on her own, and reveal to her how much support her master teacher provided. I think it would have changed her attitude, and helped her to avoid many of the other mistakes she made her first year.

You may already realize your master teacher created the environment that helped you succeed as a student teacher. If so, you may be interested in getting up to speed on classroom management, and I have just the thing for you. How about a free weekly classroom management hint, and access to a resource library of dozens of resources for educators? Just click here and enter your email to get started.

Katrina Ayres, Positive Teaching Strategies

Additional Awesome Teacher Nation Resources

Books

  • Create a Great Day for Yourself and Your Students
  • 5-Minute Classroom Management Hints
  • The Take-Charge Teacher
  • All The Ways I Screwed Up My First Year of Teaching
  • The Classroom Teacher’s Coloring Book
  • The Classroom Teacher’s Coloring Book, Volume 2

VideosAwesome Teacher Nation TV videos, including:

  • Why Threats and Punishments Don’t Work
  • Saving Time on Paperwork and Grading
  • 7 Strategies to Deal With the Pencil Sharpener
  • What’s the BEST Classroom Management Strategy?

Online Courses

  • Taming the Chaos: How to Create and Effective Classroom Routine
  • Making Money as an In-Demand Substitute Teacher
  • A Day in the Life of a Substitute Teacher
  • The Substitute Teacher’s Troubleshooting Guide

Gain Instant Access to the Awesome Teacher Nation Resources Library

With Solutions for Administrators, Classroom Teachers, New Teachers, Substitute Teachers, and more