Monday, October 10, 2011

If you don't like something, change it

Last week the Guardian Teacher Network posted the results of its survey of teachers and what they thought of education today.  I was interested to see that 44% of the teachers who answered this survey said they'd considered teaching abroad.  However the statistic that really shocked me was that 90% of teachers complained of bullying in schools.  90% - that's a phenomenal amount - but can it really be true? I started to think back to a lesson about cyberbullying that I'd taught a couple of years ago.  I asked the Grade 5 students to raise their hands if they felt they had been bullied and almost every student raised his or her hand.  To me this was incredible - and, I was sure, untrue.  It turned out when I probed a bit further that what some students thought of as bullying, was just a small one-off playground incident.  We talked about the fact the the idea of bullying was that it was persistent.

If teachers are claiming that they have experienced bullying, I wondered where the bullying was coming from.  From students?  Their parents?  Colleagues?  Administrators?  When I read the section on bullying every comment was about bullying from senior management.  As I thought about this some more I thought I'd check to see how workplace bullying was defined and I came up with several different factors that can all be counted as bullying:

Threats to professional status:  public professional humiliation, accusations regarding lack of effort, intimidating use of discipline etc.
Threats to personal standing:  undermining personal integrity, innuendo, sarcasm, insulting, intimidating, teasing and joking about the target.
Isolation:  preventing access to opportunities, withholding necessary information, ignoring or excluding.
Destabilisation:  failure to acknowledge good work, allocation of meaningless tasks, removal of responsibility, setting target up to fail, shifting goalposts.

Some of these I'd never considered to be bullying before, but when put together like this I can imagine the devastating effects these could have on teachers' morale.

October is National Bullying Prevention Month in the USA.  A whole month is allocated to this because of the number of students who commit suicide each year because they have come to the end of what they can cope with and feel this is the only way out.  There is always another way of course, and anyone who is being bullied needs to be supported.  In the case of students there should be support systems in place in schools that they can turn to.  In the case of teachers, I know of some who have chosen to leave their school or even the profession as a result of their treatment by students, colleagues or administrators.  What is vital is not to let these difficult situations drag you down to the point where you are powerless to do anything about them.  You have to act.  If you don't like something, you have to change it.

Photo Credit:  I feel so damaged by Lew Holzman AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works 

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