Teachers can be Bullies and Very Abusive to Students
Mar 27, 2017 Other 2803 Views
I sat with my youngest son during what was supposed to be a student-led conference. I have been through these before when my son was in fourth and then fifth grade, so I knew what to expect. The teachers have the students practice during the school day what they’re going to cover with the parents during the conference. Students select work samples that show how they are doing in each subject, along with tests, and goal sheets that they’ve written for themselves. These items are placed in a binder, and then the child goes through each one explaining to the parent what it is and why he chose it. Now that my son was in sixth grade, I expected more of the same; however, what really happened disturbed me to my very core. After my son covered his part, and I saw that his scores were good (students don’t receive letter grades in this school) Mrs. Judd (all names are pseudonyms) stared at Caleb, my son, and started to confront him with personal issues. She moved in physically close to him, up in his face, staring at him, and lowering the quality of her voice to a gruff, accusatory tone, she demanded that he tell her why he was not paying attention in math class.
Up to this conference time, I was not aware that there were any problems. I had emailed this teacher several times asking for feedback about my son’s progress-I had even called her a couple of times, but I didn’t receive any reply back from her. No graded tests or papers ever came back home, so I really had no idea what was going on, and my son had done very well in his previous grade levels of Kindergarten through fifth grade in this school, and the work samples that he presently explained were also of high quality. My son reacted to his teacher’s question, which was more like an attack, by lowering his head and looking down silently. However, she demanded that he answer her. I had never seen him react this way before to adults speaking to him. After some very intense moments, during which my mind was trying to wrap itself around what was happening, I could tell that my son had no idea what to say, however the teacher kept pressuring him to respond. I could sense her intensity, her mood turned dark, and I could feel anxiety creeping into me. I didn’t know what to say or what to do-I was shocked by what was happening. A teacher, I thought, was supposed to be loving and caring towards children.
My son finally summoned the courage to come up with something and said in low voice, with his head still down, that he was spending too much time visiting with friends, to which his teacher immediately struck back harshly with, “No, you’re not, you are just looking out the window!” She totally discounted his response even after he obviously had agonized over what to say. She then continued in a rough tone, “We all just want to be happy in class, don’t we Caleb, and so tell me what will make you happy? My son continued to keep his head down, and didn’t say anything, but Mrs. Judd continued to glare at him with a demeanor of hostility. I could tell that my son had no idea how to answer her question, and what 11 year old would? It was more of an accusation, than a question. He finally looked up me, and I could see the pleading message in his tearful eyes of “help me.” In his face I could see his pain, embarrassment, and shame. At this moment, in my mind, I began pleading out to God for help (Ps. 5: 1-2; Ps. 18:6). As I said these words in my mind, I could feel God’s calmness, peace, and comfort take over my mind and body. And he gave me the thoughts of don’t move, don’t say anything, don’t respond, just listen, and observe (Prov. 8:10-12; Ps. 37:7).
Following the conference, as my son and I walked out into the hallway, I grabbed him and held him tight, and said that I was so proud of the way he controlled his emotions and stayed strong during a very difficult time with his teacher, and that I was very proud of his ability to explain his work to me with such clarity, and that I was pleased with his efforts in his school work. I then changed the subject to something he likes to talk about which is video games.
Through hours of prayer time with God, I think He revealed to me all of the following information regarding the conference, and what was happening to my son, and what actions to take (Prov. 8:33). I owe these truths to Him, and I trusted Him to see my son through this extremely difficult situation (Prov. 9:9; Ps. 28:7). As I develop this article, I am continually asking God to supply my mind with His message, His truth, and His purpose (Ps. 25:14). I write this piece because I think He wants me to share my experience with others as an example of how He works to see us through life’s most emotionally painful times, and in doing so; we gain an ever increasing trust and faith in Him (Ps. 18:3; 27:5).
I think God wanted me to see first-hand what my son was going through with his teacher (Eph. 5:13). She was inwardly aggravating my son, setting him up to react in anger, taunting him. I could see it happening before my eyes, and she acted as if I couldn’t see what she was doing (2 Peter 1: 5-9). She was baiting him, inciting him, and pushing his buttons, all under the guise of: “We just want to be happy?”
I admit that following this encounter, and now knowing the revealed truth about how my son’s teacher was treating him, I struggled with feelings of anger, resentment, and the need for revenge-to get back at this teacher for hurting my son, to make her pay and stop her in her tracks. Every part of my being was calling out to protect my son. I thought about confronting her, talking to the principal, but every scenario I thought of, I knew would ultimately make things worse for my son. After all, I had no hard evidence, only my impression, my read, my insight into what was happening, all of which was revealed to me by God (1 Cor. 2: 10-12). The teacher didn’t hit him, yell at him, or put him in the corner with his nose against the wall. No, instead, she flew under the radar, subtly inflicting her emotional damage on my son, and she could quite simply deny all of my claims.
It was soon after this first conference that Mrs. Morgan, the school counselor, called me to tell me that my son had become very frustrated at school and had broken down and cried over not doing well on a math test, and that he had become very angry with another child for bumping his backpack. He had come to talk to her on his own volition.
I asked if he could come and see her whenever he felt frustrated. After several similar situations occurred and through follow-up discussions with Mrs. Morgan, she said that Caleb spoke about his teacher being constantly disappointed in him and that she saw him as looser. I thought that his behavior was the result of his teacher’s intimidating harassment of him. His anger and frustration at himself, imposed on him by his teacher, was being displayed during times when he could let it out away from her presence and abuse. I thought he was transferring his emotional pain and resulting feelings of anger onto others around him who he felt safer with. Many times it’s friends and family members who experience the brunt of a loved one’s emotional abuse at the hands of someone else.
The counselor suggested a conference between herself, the teacher, my wife, and me, but without Caleb present. When this conference time arrived, my wife and I walked into the Mrs. Judd’s classroom; there were several of my son’s female classmates in the room. I was astonished that they were still in the classroom when it was time for our scheduled conference and even more taken back that Mrs. Judd proceeded to introduce us to them as Caleb’s parents. I thought this was very inappropriate behavior, knowing that these girls would most likely gossip about this to their friends, since usually when parents show up after school to see a teacher; it is typically about their child’s misbehavior, not his good behavior. I interpreted Mrs. Judd’s actions as intentionally setting my son up for mob bullying by these girls and their friends, causing another layer of emotional abuse for him. I could see how this teacher was systematically tormenting my son to cause him shame and embarrassment.
During this meeting, Mrs. Rudd continually said that she had “concerns” about Caleb being able to handle seventh grade in middle school next year, however she did not say specifically what these concerns were or offer any suggestions for ways to help him make the transition. So why did she continue to say this? I felt the weight of her accusatory, underlying message, meant to harass and lay blame on his mother and me. This was not a constructive conversation aimed at coming up with solutions or a plan of action, but instead, another method of harassment.
Later, when I mentioned this to Mrs. Morgan, she said that I was being too negative and that she likes to look at situations in a more positive light. This made me think that my wife and I must be the only ones that see what is happening, the counselor was minimizing and marginalizing my claims, and this is exactly what this teacher wanted to appear to be happening. This is what bullies, advanced in their craft, are capable of doing, and this is what brings them their ultimate satisfaction, that of having some control or influence over their target’s life. Many times, bullies don’t think that other people realize what they are doing, especially when they do subtle, seemingly undetectable actions or pretend to be concerned. Sometimes even the target of the bullying does not know what’s happening, especially if they are a child. People mistakenly think that it’s only the outwardly aggressive people that are carrying out the bullying. I believe the counselor could not see under the teacher’s cloak of false concern (Ps. 7:14-16). It was Mrs. Morgan’s first year as a school guidance counselor, and coupled with her being very young, she may not have God’s discernment in her life. Only God can truly know a person’s motivation, her real intention, and only He can reveal this truth to believers that seek answers through Him. I spent many hours asking God to tell me what was going on, what was the truth in this situation (1 Cor. 2:10-12)?
From these two meetings with my son’s teacher, during which she displayed aggression couched in the cover of “concern,” I began to see the full picture of what was happening to my son. He was being harassed, pressured, put upon, demeaned by this teacher, and he was reacting in the only way he knew how, by crying and displaying anger towards himself and other children. Mrs. Judd was sending the underlying messages that he was a failure in school and was incapable of handling middle school. I believe that this teacher thought that what she was doing would go undetected due to her ruse of false concern.
Now, with this truth, what could I do to protect my son? I was very familiar with the school environment having been an elementary teacher myself for 14 years, and a parent for 35 years. I knew the power that teachers have over their students. If I said anything about my thoughts about her, she would just deny it, since her abuse was subtle, almost undetectable, and I had little proof accept for my crying, frustrated, and angry son. Even writing this article, I am wondering if I have substantiated my case to the reader. I knew that if I spoke out, that her wrath would come down on my son while she had him all to herself behind her closed classroom door. In this environment, she was free to get in his face, whisper in his ear, give him disapproving looks, shame him in front of his peers, and do whatever she wanted for the sake of making him feel bad about himself. Children who are bullies, do not necessary grow out of it; they grow up to be adults, and perfect their craft, becoming more and more subtle in their engagement of bullying others. I believed that Mrs. Judd showed all the signs of being such a person.
Ultimately, I knew that I could not speak out against her without my son becoming more of a target for her abusive treatment. The best thing I could do was build up his image of himself and let him know how much I loved him, through attention, prayer, and time together. There are times in our lives when we know that we are in a situation that we cannot handle on our own, and it’s in these times we learn to turn to God and trust Him to see us through (Ps. 7:10).
Each day I faced the anguish of sending him off to school only to be tormented by his teacher. I felt helpless to do anything to protect him, yet all my instincts as a father were crying out to do just that. I prayed to God throughout the day (Rom, 12:12; Phil. 4:6-7), asking for His protection of my son, and to help my son demonstrate strength, self-control, and courage when emotionally abused by his teacher. I felt God’s comfort, peace, and security fill me, as I reached out to Him, and trusted Him to keep my son safe no matter what (Is. 41:10-13).
When I helped Caleb with his homework, which was most nights, he said that I thought he was looser, that I was disappointed in him, and that he would never understand his school work. None of what he said was true; it was his vocalized, internal voice, which was the result of the tormenting messages instilled in him from his teacher. But after I assured him that this was not how I felt, and that he was a very capable boy, he would cling to me while I worked with him, and kiss me repeatedly. I could feel his anguish and emotional pain melt away from him. He had all this fear, frustration, and feelings of discouragement and hopelessness all raging within him, and he didn’t know why. Mrs. Judd sent home untaught school work for him to do almost nightly, including weekends, and I ultimately taught him how to do it.
During the school day, as reported by Mrs. Morgan, Caleb became increasingly agitated and easily angered over the slightest infraction by his schoolmates, e.g., an accidental bump, nudge, cutting in line, or his classmates not listening to him. Mrs. Morgan insinuated to me that my wife and I were having marital problems and that may be why Caleb was upset during the school day. However, we were not experiencing any marriage problems, and furthermore, Caleb was not angry at home, quite the opposite; he was happy and loving at home, and we didn’t see any of the anger and frustration that he was displaying at school. Life in our home was peaceful and comforting; we loved and supported each other through God’s love for us (Eph. 3:17). I had the strong suspicion that there was a rumor spreading among the staff at school that my wife and I were having marital problems. This is another tactic of bullies for the sake of deflecting attention off of themselves in regards to the damage they are doing to their target, and making it look like someone else is to blame, but this is a cover up. Most of the time, the bully makes it look like it’s the target’s fault, but since Caleb was a child, being bullied by an adult, Mrs. Judd was laying blame on us, the parents.
Rumors spread like a contagious disease, affecting all who hear them. They have an epicenter, which I believe was my son’s teacher, and the lies, like shock waves, spread out from this person causing damage to the target of the rumor. Only God has the power to deal with the person who starts a rumor (Ps. 37:9). You can deny the rumor; defend yourself, only to no avail. You have to trust that over time, God will cause the truth to be revealed and the lies and the person who spread them, to become exposed to the people around her (Ps. 37:5-7).
When faced with emotional trauma, resist the natural urge to fight the situation, don’t work to change your circumstances, don’t run away; these are all natural human instincts; instead, turn fully to God, and follow His instruction every step of the way (Prov. 3:5-6; Ps. 37:8). Do what he tells you to do, and He will see you through life’s most difficult events. As you pray to God, ask Him to show you how He is helping you; look for evidence of His work, and as you see what He is doing, the results will be a greater awareness of the power God has over your life to help you, and this realization brings with it the end of fear, frustration, and anger; which are replaced with the sensations of peace and comfort from God (Ps. 28:7).
In times of great trouble and heartache, when it appears that all avenues of defense only lead to more trouble, this is when we come to know that only God can help us, not ourselves, and no one else (Prov. 3:5-6). I started the practice of praying over all of my children as they lay sleeping in their cribs as infants, and this practice continued as they became older and could join in the prayers with me (Prov. 22:6). Each of them accepted Jesus into their lives at an early age, and this was the case with Caleb. We prayed together nightly, and at other times when he felt very upset, I would hold him tight, put our heads together, and prayed aloud for God to help him. This is what I did when he displayed any signs of distress at home, and I trusted God to take care of him no matter what happened to him at school (Ps 37: 39, 40).
Although, I could not stop Mrs. Judd from her persistent tormenting of my son, I knew God could (Ps. 36:12). What I could do was teach my son how to turn to God for help each and every day (2 Peter 1:3), which is a life-long skill. I also wanted to help him stand up to the abuse that was happening to him. I knew that I could not explain what his teacher was doing to him; he didn’t have the maturity to understand, and this information would put him at odds with his teacher and only cause him more trouble. And, I did not reveal to him my thoughts about his teacher; this too, would not serve any constructive purpose. What I could do was arm him with the tools of defense when confronted by bullies, because bullies do not go away, but continue to harass God’s people throughout their lives (2 Tim. 3:12). The best defense is to not show the bully any emotions of fear or anger, because that’s what they want to instill, so Caleb needed to learn to have self-control over these emotions. This is something we talked and prayed about at home, and I also made arrangements with Mrs. Morgan to see Caleb on a regular, weekly basis for instruction on handling anger. I knew Mrs. Morgan did not believe me about how Caleb’s teacher was treating him, so I accepted that and moved on to look for a way that she could be in contact with him, to be a present support in school when he was away from me. She agreed to see him on a weekly, regular basis for instruction on anger control, and to see him at times when he just felt angry and frustrated. This plan of action didn’t come from me, but from my daily prayers with God. I asked Him what to do and He told me (Ps. 32:8). My son needed to learn that God would help him and teach him how to deal with the bullies in his life through Him and not on his own.
My peace and comfort came from knowing and trusting God in this situation to make everything turn out for the good of my son (Rom. 8:28), which I believe was to make him emotionally stronger, more resilient, and more capable of handing abusive people in his life, who will never go away. My initial anger at this teacher boiled within me. Most parents don’t want to see their children suffer under the hands of someone else. Through this experience, I learned more about the continual process of forgiveness (Matt. 5:44). I asked God to give me verses in the Bible for the sake of direction and support (Ps. 32:8). From God’s word in the Bible, I learned that He would deal harshly with Mrs. Judd for her lying and emotional abuse of my son (Mark 9:42). I prayed to God to help me forgive her, and I prayed that she would come to know Him and accept Jesus as her Lord and Savior, and knowing that if she did, her abusive treatment of children and parents would stop (Acts 2:38, 3:19; Mark 1:15) . God’s word also says that He will make people’s lies and deceit known to everyone around them (Luke 12:3). I knew this to be true in the people around me and people in our society whose underhanded ways eventually became revealed to the public eye.
Through much time spent talking to God, and being with my son, I have seen him heal from the wounds of abuse inflicted upon him by his classroom teacher. His happiness, renewed expressions of love, and good humor, I know are the results of God’s spiritual work in him (Gal. 5:22-23). I continue to learn from God that when the worst of times strike, cling to Him through prayer and reading the Bible, and completely have trust and faith that He will lead me and my family safely through (Ps. 23).
International Bible Society (1984). The Holy Bible, New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.
I would like to thank Dr. Charles F. Stanley for his inspirational messages that I have listened to, read, and studied for almost 20 years. Even though we have never met, his work for God has greatly impacted my life.
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