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


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  • The Classroom Teacher’s Coloring Book, Volume 2

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