Which professions, in their teaching schools and in their on-the-job practices, foster or tolerate the worst and most flagrant forms of bullying? I don’t know, but teaching is right up there with doctors and lawyers and others I may be overlooking. I see two kinds of principals running two very different kinds of public schools.
The smaller percent won’t tolerate bullying among the students, won’t tolerate bullying of the students by teachers and also won’t tolerate bullying of teachers by other teachers. These principals and teachers are a pleasure to work with. We can design policies and proactive programs to keep students and teachers safe and focused on teaching. These people say, “We don’t tolerate bullying here.”
Unfortunately, the larger percent of principals and teachers tolerate or ignore bullying on the part of students and the faculty. Even if they have anti-bullying policies, they don’t have effective programs and they won’t stand up to bullies – students or teachers. They’re usually the schools at which principals and even counselors will look me in the eye and say, as if they believe it, “We have no bullying here,” – even though teachers and students know who the bullies are and where, when and how the bullying occurs, and they’ve complained publically about bullying, and even after there have been suicides.
By the way, not only public schools, but also colleges, universities and professional, post-graduate training schools (teacher training, medical schools, and law schools) are hotbeds of faculty harassing and bullying students, and faculty bullying other faculty. Don’t believe me? Check out the law suits and blogs. Ask the teachers, doctors and lawyers you know personally. Ask about arrogant, narcissistic, abusive control-freaks. How do teachers bully other teachers?
- Senior individuals, including principals, have power and control over junior teachers and will misuse that power for personal reasons, including sex. One variant is, “Suck up to me or I’ll sabotage your career.” Another is, “I’m powerful and I enjoy making you squirm.” Or, “They did it to me and now I’ll do it to you.” And, “It’s for your own good. It’ll make you stronger.”
- Often, cliques of senior or even junior teachers try to run the show. One variant is, “Join our clique and suck up to us or else.” Another is, “Don’t change my perks or the status quo, and don’t threaten my job. Don’t expose our failures or dirty laundry even though we’re not changing. If you do, we’ll get you.” Their favorite tactics are to ostracize the offender and to blame all the problems on him or her. These vicious gangs will try to silence or remove offenders for nitpicky, trumped up reasons.
What can you do if you’re managing such an environment?
- In my experience, successful change starts from the top down.
- At a college, university or professional school, it takes a very powerful and very politically astute new administrator or new department head to change the environment. The new person will have to weed through his staff slowly and carefully, replacing the worst bullies and narcissists for legal reasons and in legal ways. He’ll have to have support because there will be widespread personal attacks and law suits.
- At a public school, change requires a new principal supported by the district administrators and school boards. The new principal will have to be a master at enrolling a core group of supportive teachers and the media, and maneuvering around the union. Entrenched people, like infected splinters, are hard to reach and remove. But persevering and savvy principals can set a new tone in their schools.
What can you do if you’re a target?
- Notice the signs. If you’re ignored, blamed or attacked in public, especially in front of students, you’re being set-up to be the target of a public media campaign as a troublemaker who needs fired for the well-being of the school. There’s no negotiating with these righteous predators and flying low won’t get them to back off. You won’t get the union to back you.
- Hire a good lawyer who knows how to get the right publicity – not the school lawyer. Being right won’t prevent a smear campaign, full of innuendos and lies, against you. Learn what to document on your home computer.
- You’ll probably end up looking for a job in another state with one of the few district administrators who can see the truth and are willing to take a chance on a “potential troublemaker.”
It’s particularly sad when the people who are responsible to guard our children against bullying are bullies themselves. We each have to fight our own private battle against abuse by people in power or those out of power who want to gain power and control.