The Other Forms of Bullying in Schools – Teacher-Targeted Bullying
The most studied form of bullying in schools is student-to-student bullying (alternatively called peer or lateral bullying). There are at least two other forms of bullying in schools: (i) teacher-targeted bullying and (ii) teacher bullying. This article examines one of those forms of bullying that exist in schools specifically, teacher-targeted bullying (TTB), i.e., the teacher is bullied by students.
(1) Teacher-Targeted Bullying (TTB)
In this form of bullying, the teacher is the target of bullying behaviours by students and the bullying is intentional, persistent and vigorous (Pervin, p.4). There are two forms of bullying: (i) direct and (ii) indirect (Phyältö, p.265) and examples can be found in both the Pervin and Phyältö papers. Bullying in the direct form can consist of behaviours such as insulting verbal communications, swearing, open humiliation (e.g., jokes or pranks), and mocking (e.g. you cannot control us). Generally, the indirect form is non-verbal and some examples are: (i) knowingly ignoring the teacher, (ii) making personal comments regarding the teacher, (iii) laughter or insulting gestures directed towards the teacher and (iv) technology facilitated bullying (texting). It has been suggested that there is a distinction between disruptive behaviour (e.g., talking out of turn, distracting other students) and TTB, and furthermore, if disruptive behaviour is left unchecked, it may turn into TTB (Pervin, p.4).
A recent publication suggests that between 2% and 23% of teachers have been bullied by students (Phyältö, p.265). The Pervin publication reports a more detailed description of the percentage of teachers affected by bullying. For example, a large percentage (91%) of teachers indicated that they had suffered from TTB at some point in their career. Furthermore, 20% were bullied for several years; whereas, 12% had been subjected to TTB intermittently. Furthermore, 71% had been subjected to verbal abuse and 15% to physical abuse (Pervin, p.5).
In terms of the gender that perpetrated the bullying, there appeared to be no difference between boys or girls, i.e., 38% versus 35% (Pervin, p.6). In terms of age, it is suggested that all years had some level of TTB; although, grade 10 was the most prevalent class of students that participated in TTB (Pervin, p.6). This finding is in-line with a study done on moral disengagement with school children in grades 5 and 6-8 and ranged in ages from 10-15 years (Bandura, p.367). In this study, they found that even at these ages, children were able to enlist many of the mechanisms of moral disengagement in order to justify their behaviour and furthermore, this ability did not differ as a function of age (Bandura, p.368). This shows that children learn early on that they can get away with their behaviour if they can formulate a justification (even if the justification is not warranted). The study also showed that boys were better at coming up with justifications than girls (Bandura, p.368), which is in-line with the Pervin finding. Another interesting find was the location of the TTB, i.e., 62% took place in the classroom and 32% occurred outside of the classroom, e.g., corridors (Pervin, p.5). Furthermore, Pervin suggested that students that participated in TTB did so to undermine the teacher’s confidence (Pervin, p.4) or the teacher’s authority (Pervin, p.6)
(2) The Affects of Teacher-Targeted Bullying
As with any form of bullying, TTB results in harmful effects for the teachers that have been bullied. It has been suggested that the effects can be detrimental to the morale of the affected teachers, (Pervin, p.6). Furthermore, it was found that 18% of those affected dreaded going to class and 3% found the bullying to be unbearable (Pervin, p.5). It is thus not surprising that the performance of teachers can be negatively impacted, which ultimately can have negative results for student’s learning (Pervin, p.6) and the quality of teaching (Phyältö, p. 265). It should be noted that if a teacher does not have control of a classroom, it does not mean that they are not a good teacher and vise versa, i.e., a teacher that has good control of the classroom does not necessarily mean that they are a good teacher (Pervin, p.7). Thus, school management should strive to ensure that their teachers have appropriate control of the classroom (suitable for the circumstances), which would hopefully enable those teachers to reach their maximum teaching potential and maximize the teaching experience, i.e., for both teacher and students (Pervin, p.7).
It is a well established fact that students learn differently, i.e., Tell (auditory) / Show (demonstrate through visual & read/write methods) / Do (practise through direct student participation), which ultimately requires the teacher to utilize multiple methods of teaching in one classroom (NAIT, Module 1.1, p.13). If teachers are experiencing TTB, this may impact their ability to achieve this difficult task and deliver interesting and effective lessons.
(3) Some Suggestions for a resolution to Teacher-Targeted Bullying
As indicated previously, TTB can occur at all ages of students; thus, it has been suggested that implementing measures at the early school years would teach students that TTB is not an acceptable manner of behaviour in the school environment (Pervin, p.6). Studies from workplace bullying suggest that the workplace climate is an important predictor of workplace bullying and furthermore, that social support is a mitigator (Phyältö, p.264). Einarsen suggests that “social support reduces emotional and psychological activation, and hence the negative effects of bullying” (Einarsen, 2000, as cited in Phyältö, p.264).
The Phyältö paper suggests the development of a “teacher–working environment fit”, which they define to be social support and constructive group dynamics, i.e., between the teacher and their professional community, e.g., colleagues and principals (Phyältö, p.271). Obtaining a helpful suggestion to a problem in a class may mitigate the stress related to the TTB being experienced by a teacher (Phyältö, p.264). Thus, acknowledgement that there is a problem and having the ability to constructively problem solve the issue with colleagues may function as inhibitors of TTB (Phyältö, p.271). This might be considered as a co-regulative strategy, i.e, colleagues coming together to devise innovative ways to prevent bullying (Phyältö, p.271). Additionally, a teacher may come up with their own strategies to prevent TTB, i.e., a self-regulative strategy. Thus, individuals may develop ways to cope with the stress associated with TTB and in addition, may come together with colleagues to modify their teaching environment, resulting in a benefit for both the teacher and students.
This discussion is not meant to be a literature review, but rather a starting point for further discussion. Remember – breaking the silence and speaking out inhibits the bully from trying to justify their bad behaviour. The Phyältö paper is a good starting point for those looking for references related to the topic.
(1) Bandura, A., Barbaranelli, C., Caprara, G. and Pastorelli, C., (1996), Mechanisms of moral disengagement in the exercise of moral agency, Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 71(2), p.364-374.
(2) Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT), Department of Teaching & Academic Development, Becoming a Master Instructor, (2011), Module 1.1, p.1-17.
(3) Pervin, K. and Turner, A., (1998), A study of bullying of teachers by pupils in an inner London school, The Journal for Pastoral Care & Personal-Social Education, 16(4), p. 4-10.
(4) Phyältö, K., Pietarinen, J., and Soini, T., (2015), When teaching gets tough – Professional community inhibitors of teacher-targeted bullying and turnover intentions, Improving Schools, 18(3), p.263-276.