Tips for Professionals who Witness Teacher Bullying
We are all well aware of the importance of protecting our students from bullying. Our vulnerable kids on the autism spectrum are, unfortunately, often the targets of such attempts. You probably have a district policy for identifying, reporting, and responding to bullying attempts whether they occur on the playground, on the bus, in the gym or cafeteria, or wherever kids congregate.
But what if the bully is the teacher?
We like to think this would never happen in our schools, but unfortunately this is not always the case. Bullying from the front of the classroom happens all too frequently.
It might be the teacher who uses sarcasm as a sword; it’s funny for everyone except the target.
It might be that a teacher doesn’t really want an autistic student in their classroom. They refer the child to the office or back to their special education case manager for minor infractions that are excused when other kids engage in the same behavior.
It can be as subtle as a teacher rolling their eyes when their autistic student talks about their favorite subject again, or sighing with obvious impatience when the child needs more help than his classmates.
Any of these are visible signs of disrespect, signaling that this child with autism does not deserve the same patience, kindness or respect that their classmates receive.
And once the teacher has demonstrated this kind of disrespect or bullying from the front of the classroom, the other students accept that it is okay to tease or bully or put down this kid, even if they wouldn’t think of treating their other classmates so unkindly.
If you observe a teacher disrespecting a student, remember that as a school professional you are a mandated reporter. But think carefully before you make accusations. Start with the teacher.
First, try talking to the teacher in private. Gather your data and make an appointment to meet, and then share your concerns that the teacher’s actions might be causing stress for the autistic student. Share what you observed in a non-judgmental way, allowing the teacher to save face by assuming that no intentional bullying occurred, but that the incidents could feel like bullying to the student on the spectrum. The teacher may be dismayed by this realization, and decide to change their behavior. On the other hand, the teacher may resent your implications and assert that what they do in their own classroom is their own business. Do not engage in an argument about it; apologize if your observations were unwelcome and back off.
Then just observe what changes you might see in the classroom, but only during the times you would normally be there for the student. Do not increase observations periods, as this may be construed as harassing the teacher. You may find that, whether the teacher took your comments to heart or angrily resented your intrusion, the behavior begins to change for the better. Once a teacher is aware of the impact their attitude has on students, they may start changing on their own.
If you continue to see concerning behaviors from the teacher that constitute bullying, in your professional opinion, then you can approach the appropriate supervisor, whether a special education coordinator or school principal. Tell them that this is a difficult conversation for you to bring up, and it will probably be difficult for them to hear, and then lay out your data on the bullying behaviors you observed. After you have reported, let the administrator take the lead. Most districts already have policies and procedures in place for dealing with bullying and for dealing with teacher improvement plans.
It’s never easy to have these conversations, but our vulnerable students are worth the time, trouble and discomfort.
Have you ever had to deal with bullying by an adult at school? How did it get handled? If you want to share your experiences, successes, or hard-won battles, use the comments section below, but please maintain confidentiality