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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    DO teachers bully children?

  • Find a professional to answer your question

  • 4

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    Joe Gubbay

    Clinical Psychologist, Counsellor, Psychologist, Psychotherapist

    I have worked in public hospitals as well as private practice over the past 25 years. As a clinical psychologist I treat depression, social anxiety, … View Profile

    Unfortunately some teachers do bully children.  If we define bullying as “repeated oppression of a less powerful person by a more powerful person or group”, then the question becomes, “Do some teachers oppress children?”  Another way of putting it is, “Are there teachers who act cruelly towards children?”  Teaching is a profession where one person needs to be in control of 20 to 30 other people, so there's a power imbalance (and there needs to be!).  It's when that power is repeatedly abused that it can be considered bullying.  

    I certainly remember teachers who acted in an unfair manner to specific children.  Sometimes they seemed to pick on a child who was already unpopular; maybe they thought they would impress the other kids. Other teachers seemed to get a little bit too much satisfaction by demonstrating their power over children.  They sometimes thought what they were doing was funny, but the victim never did.  

    Schools have, by and large, turned a corner with bullying, and take it very seriously. Generally that's bullying by other children, but most schools should have policies in place to make sure that teachers are also acting in a reasonable manner towards students.  If you are being bullied, or a child you care for is being bullied, sometimes a calm discussion between the teacher and parent will be enough - not all bullies realise the consequences of their behaviour, and there is often a fine line.  If that doesn't work, it might be time to have a chat to the school principal.  

  • Grant McKell

    Psychologist

    Grant McKell is a counselling psychologist working in Sydney's inner west with over ten years' experience. He founded HeadsUp Psychology in August, 2011. Having worked in … View Profile

    Let's consider the flipside of this question- Does bullying never occur from teacher to student? Of course, we'd be very naive to think that this would be true. Bullying will inevitably occur at some point in the education system. And we can think of parallels in many other industries- law enforcement, health, retail, finance, rural and so on.
    We need to remember that bullying is on a continuum from that which we, as a society deem to be acceptable to that which we don't. For example, once it was deemed appropriate and even encouraged for teachers to use corporal punishment to discipline students. We now deem that to be unacceptable. These days, teachers may use sanctions, such as detention or removal from class to discipline students. Can this be conceived of as bullying? Well, according to the definition that Joe, above  has given (which I agree with), then yes it can be. But do we find this acceptable as a society? I'm happy to be wrong here, but I would say the consensus would be that we do.
    Where bullying becomes a problem is when it goes beyond in its intensity and its frequency that which society deems to be ok. For example, a teacher who continually singles one child out for berating, put downs and mockery would be bullying in a manner that would be deemed not to be ok. But a teacher who tells a student that they will be given a detention if they don't sit down and behave would be deemed to be acting appropriately, even though they just threatened the student with punishment.
    Power imabalances in society do exist, but some of these are sanctioned. The onus is upon those who are given power to know where the limits in exercising and maintaining that power lie.
    Returning to the point at which we started, we would be naive to think that there are no teachers who ever get this wrong. In the same manner, there are police, army personnel, nurses, doctors, accountants, lawyers and so on who get it wrong when it comes to managing the power that society has given them.
    I agree with Joe, that teachers in the vast majority act very professionally and know the limits. The majority are also skilled at using incentives rather than punishement to elicit desired behaviours.
    However, if you do have concerns, the principal should be your first port of call.

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    Natalee is a qualified and registered counsellor, life coach and parenting specialist and trainer and assessor.Natalee is the CEO of Enriching Horizons a business dedicated … View Profile

    As a mother and counsellor I can say definately yes. Unfortunately some teachers dont see the damage or influence they make on children. There are those who stay in the education role long after their passion for educating children has gone. Children should be reminded that teachers are human too and can make mistakes and poor choices to. If they are treated unfairly or bullied  it can help to remember it is a reflection of the teacher's poor skills and lack of behaviour control not the person being bullied who is at fault.
    You can also be true to yourself and ask “did I do something inappropriate” and make changes to maybe limit that behaviour, but this still does not call for the teacher to bully.
    Teacher's that bully consistently should be reported in writing to the education department.

  • 5

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    Paul Bertoia

    Educational and Developmental Psychologist, Psychologist

    Paul is an Educational and Developmental Psychologist who has worked with infants, children, adolescents and adults for twenty years, in a range of settings.He has … View Profile

    Of course, teachers do sometimes bully children.  

    However, in twenty years of working with children, and many of those years spent working alongside children with learning, behavioural and mental health problems in schools, I have been really heartened to see how rarely this actually occurs.  Overwhelmingly, teachers try to help children, and the vast majority act professionally in this regard.

    If bullying by a teacher is suspected, I note the useful recommendations from other professionals above.  Before you see the School Principal you could also sound out other parents of children in the class (if you know and trust them) - sometimes this can help to give another perspective on what might actually be happening in the class.

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