Should a 6th Grade Child Confront a Teacher Bully?

Reader’s Question

If a 12 year-old child in the 6th grade is being bullied by a teacher, is it feasible that the child should be empowered to deal with the problem in a non-threatening, non-challenging way rather than the teacher being taken to task? This is the advice I have been given by both the school social worker and principal. They have said that the child must go to the teacher and ask to speak to her. If the teacher gives permission she must then ask her to explain her actions. I personally don’t believe that this is the correct advice.

Psychologist’s Reply

By definition, a “bully” is an individual who is aggressive, intimidating, frightening, and poses a threat of some kind to those around them. Like you, I can’t imagine a 12 year-old with the self-esteem, verbal articulation skills, and social confidence to confront a bully in a position of authority — the teacher. Your child is already frightened and intimidated. In truth, if this is such an easy solution to the problem, why can’t the principal or the social worker calmly discuss this matter with the teacher? As an adult, an educational professional, and an individual with 4 to 7 years of college, confronting the teaching bully should be quite routine. Sadly, as their avoidance behavior suggests, it’s not that easy.

The school is transferring responsibility for the teacher’s behavior to your child. If the teacher is a bully, she is a bully to the majority of the children in the classroom — and that’s a problem for the school administration, not something your child needs to solve. There are some things you can do as parents:

  • Inform the school administration that you have elected not to place your child in a position of severe anxiety and potentially risk verbal abuse or additional bullying behavior by confronting the teacher.
  • As parents, you are now asking the school take action to prevent the harmful effects of bullying in the classroom. A teacher’s misbehavior in the classroom is the responsibility of the school administration — not the responsibility of the children in the classroom.
  • You can elect as parents to request a conference with the teacher. In such a conference, describe/express your concerns that there may be some issues with her relationship with your child. Don’t mention “bullying” — yet. Assure the teacher that you are very concerned as parents and you hope the situation will improve. Remind the teacher that as parents, you are willing to meet with her every two weeks until the situation is resolved. You’d be surprised how bully behavior disappears when a teacher knows parents will be visiting her office every two weeks to make her very uncomfortable. Remain very polite and smiling during these “visits”.
  • If the issue doesn’t resolve itself, again revisit the school administration and assure them you will not allow the situation to be ignored. Assure them that you hope the situation is resolved “at this level” — a strategy that not-so-softly implies you are willing to take additional steps if necessary.
  • Keep a record of all phone calls, meetings (who attended, topics, agreements), and significant reports from your child. This record shows a “good faith” effort on your part to resolve the issue.
  • Recognize that the teacher may be experiencing her own personal issues such as marital concerns, illness in parents, medical problems, etc. Politely bringing her behavior to her attention may be helpful to her. However, if she is a bully by personality, the school administration retains responsibility for allowing that behavior to exist in the classroom, especially when such behavior is brought to their attention.

As our children go though school, they will encounter a variety of teachers and peers. When conflicts arise, it’s important that parents and school administrators work together to resolve these conflicts. Sadly, at times more than a phone call is needed to fix situations in the school, playground, or classroom.

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