Editor's Note: The author of this blog wishes to remain anonymous.
I sat in the department meeting paralyzed by shock as the department head railed about an administrative “crackdown” on nonconformist teachers. Glaring across the room at me, she said, “We all need to be teaching the same thing at the same time. And people who don’t like it need to get out.”
This outburst wasn’t the first attack on my teaching. This teacher had gone out of her way to make me feel incompetent or fearful of losing my job several times. The practice of shutting my door and doing what I felt was best for students had earned me a reputation for being “not a team player.”
It is true my teaching style is different from that of most teachers in my department. But when I suggested technology-based projects or more diverse, relevant articles and novels during co-planning sessions, either my ideas were ignored or I was told they wouldn’t work. Very quickly I learned to keep my mouth shut and continued doing innovative, culturally responsive teaching behind my closed classroom door.
After an attack, I would feel depressed, physically sick with anxiety for days. These emotions were taking over my life—until I recognized what was happening. My veteran department head (1) had more power than I did, (2) aggressively tried to intimidate me, and (3) repeated her behavior over time. After several cycles of this I was able to call it what it was: bullying. She was bullying me.
Once I realized what was happening, I also realized I was not alone. TES Connect, an education website based in the UK, reports that one out of three teachers says he or she has experienced bullying at work. When we talk about eradicating bullying for our students, we also need to talk about confronting it amongst the faculty.
Identifying the bullying gave me direction and helped me put my self-doubt to rest. I started drawing parallels between my story and the bullying incidents I stopped in the school hallways and in my classroom. I realized that the same rules and ideas we give our kids to prevent and stop bullying apply to adult situations as well. And I started gathering my resources.
Bullying victims need allies. When I’m helping a student deal with bullying, I address the situation with school administrators and the guidance department to develop a comprehensive plan. I also provide the student with resources like the GLSEN website or novels like The Revealers. When targets of bullying feel supported, they are better able to empower themselves.
Armed with this knowledge, I sought out my own network of allies. From my research I knew that the principals and superintendent were responsible for ensuring a safe environment, so I called meetings with both. Although it didn’t create instantaneous change, I felt relieved I had taken a step to protect myself.
I also thought about the companionship and space I extend to my students who experience bullying; validation helps them to feel visible and stay solution oriented. To this end, I leaned on friends and family to help me remember who I was outside of school. They reminded me not to neglect my hobbies. They helped me laugh even when I felt it impossible. And they reminded me of the many times I’d helped others in my community.
Just like kids, teachers need peers to stand up and speak out. Principals and administrators can help by discussing adult bullying and implementing Speak Up training for youth and staff. In my case, a colleague who stood up for me publicly later asked me to be a witness for her in a harassment incident. This kind of support helps not only in the moment, but can help sustain us during what can be long struggles.
Many teachers who experience bullying at work simply leave; others detach so much from their work that their students suffer. I hope that including adult-on-adult bullying in our discussion during National Bullying Prevention Month and throughout the year can support a more comprehensive approach to creating (and modeling) supportive school climates for everyone. It behooves school leadership to protect the entire educational community from bullying—teachers included.