Picture these three scenarios:
• Your kid goes to school and someone belittles him about his disability in the cafeteria.
• Your kid is trying to make an alternative argument in a high school social studies class discussion about a hotly controversial national issue, but someone keeps suppressing him and talking over him loudly to further their own position.
• Your kid talks to someone at school about something important, and then he overhears what he said being repeated, laughed about and mocked to others.
Each one smacks of bullying, no?
Okay, now picture the “someone” in each of those scenarios is…a teacher? WHAT?!?!
Bullying. A hot topic in schools today, as well it should be. And I’m 100% on board that preventing it starts at home, within the family. But you know who also need to be exemplary partners in upholding anti-bulling policies? Teachers. You know, those adults that our kids spend so many of their waking hours with. The ones who have nearly as much responsibility and influence as parents to be good role models.
In the past month, my kids and I have been dealing with all three situations I outlined above, and yes, the someone in each case was a teacher. More than one, actually. Outrageous. Despicable, really.
In our family, we’ve taught the kids the importance of being self-advocates, especially when they’ve got an issue with an assignment or a class or a teacher. We do a little coaching first if they want, encouraging them to note the points they want to remember to make, and we give them the support they sometimes need to muster up the courage, as it’s not always easy to approach a teacher. There aren’t many more valuable life lessons than having them learn early to question, challenge and stand up for themselves—in a polite and respectful way, of course.
But bullying isn’t something kids should have to handle on their own. It’s serious business, and it’s where we step in immediately. You’re not providing a safe, positive learning environment for students when teachers themselves aren’t called out for their damaging insensitivity, inappropriateness, indiscretion, and intolerance the same way students are. The anti-bullying policy in the schools must apply to everyone on the premises, especially those who are being paid to be there and ought to know better. Our kids deserve it, and their education depends upon it.
So what can you do?
1. Talk to your kids about what bullying looks like. Explain that it comes in many forms—even from adults—and that they need to be vigilant about looking for it in their own inadvertent actions, as well as others’.
2. Get to the bottom of things with your child if she things she has been bullied by a teacher. Sometimes a child will mistake feelings of disappointment, frustration or failure for being bullied. While those are certainly important feelings that need to be addressed, they often don’t indicate a bullying problem.
3. If you suspect or determine that your child may have been the victim of teacher bullying, write down as many details and examples as you can. Be as specific as possible with dates, times, locations. With older kids, have them help with the documentation, and use the experience as a lesson in advocacy, ethics, appropriate behavior and diplomacy. The younger the child, the less involved they should be; casually ask about things that have happened in the classroom so you can put your case together.
4. Set up a meeting with the teacher and the principal. Don’t be scared off by the prospect that making waves will negatively impact your child’s education. Take a deep breath and be courageous on your child’s behalf. Organize your notes and bring them with you. Discuss the details of your case with as little emotion and as much courtesy as you can muster. Listen! Take notes. Don’t get too mired in what’s happened in the past. Have the attitude that you all need to move forward together in a positive manner, for the best interest of your child and his education. Work on solutions and safeguards.
5. If there’s agreement that the teacher’s communication or behavior was hurtful or damaging, make sure that a genuine apology to your child is part of the resolution. Not only will it help ease or heal the relationship between teacher and student, but it will show your child that adults do indeed make mistakes, that they need to take accountability for them, that caring about others is an important and admirable quality, and that showing sincere remorse goes a long way.
Remember, you are your kid’s best advocate.