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Health & Parenting

Teachers Who Bully

The problem of teachers bullying students is more common than you think. Learn how to prevent your child from becoming a victim.
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Why Do Teachers Bully? continued...

Teacher bullying spans "the range of human behaviors," Twemlow says. But he has been able to identify two categories: a "tiny minority" of sadistic teachers and the "bully-victim" teachers.

"The sadistic teacher hacks on kids in a way that indicates they might get some pleasure from it," he says. That means "humiliating students, hurting students' feelings, and being spiteful." For example, he remembers one teacher who repeatedly ridiculed a boy by calling him a girl's name.

In an ideal world, there would be screening methods to weed out such "nightmare teachers," he says. "We basically feel that sadistic teachers shouldn't be teachers."

For the bully-victim teacher, there may be more hope, he says. "This is the type of teacher who usually is passive and lets a class get out of control and responds with rage and bullying. These bully-victim teachers are often absent from work, they fail to set limits, and they do a lot of referrals to the principal because they like other people to handle their problems."

These teachers could benefit from training on effective classroom management, he says.

Men and women are equally likely to bully, Twemlow says, but his study didn't look at whether their tactics differed.

One interesting finding: Teachers who bully were often bullied themselves in childhood. As Twemlow's study co-researcher, Peter Fonagy, PhD, noted in a news release: "If your early experiences lead you to expect that people will not reason, but respond to force, then you are at risk of recreating this situation in your classroom."

Advice for Parents

When abuse is physical, most parents don't hesitate to report the offending teacher, Freeman says. But many see emotional or verbal bullying as a gray area. They worry that speaking up could cause a teacher to take revenge on their child -- and there's little escape. "It really is on a different level than kid-to-kid bullying," Twemlow says. "The kid has no power."

Don't ignore the problem, experts say. Here are some tips for handling the issue of teacher bullying:

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