Harassment of teachers by students

Thursday February 16, 2012

Much has been revealed about bullying and harassment in schools but little discourse has included harassment of teachers by students. During a typical high school day a teacher may see more than 100 students. Each must be instructed, cajoled, corrected, graded, remediated, coached, comforted, and sometimes re-directed by the teacher. Every student knows that the teacher's performance is measured by peers, administrators, parents, colleagues, the community, society, and most importantly, by the teacher's own conscience.

A small percentage of students often use this to their advantage through socially negative behaviors directed toward the teacher and the class. They may crave peer recognition from others, attention from the teacher, or re-direction of topic rather than what is most important -- an education. The teacher suffers as his or her frustration level rises, and other students suffer because it is difficult to learn in an uncomfortable environment.

A classroom can experience many disruptions from students including tardiness, requests to go to the nurse, restroom, guidance counselor, assistant principal or principal, locker, a coach, or just to escape class.

These requests are made, but the desired answer is pre-determined, and "no" is rarely an option. In addition cell phones ring or vibrate, earphones dangle and hiss, texting fingers discretely tap, off topic conversations buzz, paper projectiles litter, pencils and feet tap, hallway noises rise and fall, school-wide announcements jangle, and the classroom phone startles.

Some students relish these distractions because each minute spent on interruptions is one less spent on mental effort. Noticing the stress level of the teacher rise, some students add inappropriate distractions of their own.

Admittedly there is a fine line between normal teenage behavior and intentional harassment. Most teachers enjoy helping young people mature through personal experience including experimental behaviors. But when an incident is particularly inappropriate or continually repeated, teachers are often at a disadvantage because it is risky to defend their position at the moment an infraction occurs. "Rules must be obeyed" is their safest stance because any attempt to rationalize invites argument.

Some unfortunate teachers can be the target of "mob" behavior by several cooperating students. When one student is requested to modify a behavior, others defend their own at the expense of the teacher's need to move on. A lack of effective consequences from home or school administration that might stop negative behavior can generate a downward-spiraling cycle that may lead to a teacher's physical and mental health being damaged as severely as if the teacher were a student being harassed or bullied by peers.




The writer is a mathematics teacher at Lee Middle & High School.


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