Pedagogy of the oppressors: How to handle a bully teacher

Sometimes in schools it's not only peers who bully each other, but teachers, too. Most teachers are strong advocates for children, but some, sadly are not. This article discusses what to do about it.

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  • Paulo Freire, noted Brazilian educator and philosopher, penned the blueprint for how education transforms and enhances the quality of life for all social classes. His book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed(1968) aimed to improve educational opportunity for Brazil’s farming poor, particularly those he knew best, the “colonizers” and the “colonized.” This liberating work inspired not only the entire nation of Brazil, but also the thinking of educators worldwide, selling over 1 million copies.

  • What happens when a teacher we entrust to prevent bullying is to blame for oppression in your school? What if your child’s teacher is the oppressor? Every school is essentially a colony. Bullying is rampant on school campuses, and parents, educators and legislators are all seeking answers.

  • What the research says

  • Dr. Stuart Twemlow, psychiatrist and director of the Peaceful Schools and Communities Project at Baylor offers insight into this unique breed of the school bully. In a 2005 study, Twemlow found that “45 percent of the 116 teachers sampled indicated that at some time in their careers they had bullied a student.” Teachers are humans who lose patience or exercise poor judgment just like anyone else, but that is no excuse when it’s your kid crying on the bus ride home.

  • The majority of the teachers that I have known are dedicated, professional and compassionate people who would, like Victoria Soto from Sandy Hook Elementary in Newton, Connecticut, give their own lives for your children. Some teachers forget why they chose education and stop caring about kids, a small number of teachers might even feel satisfaction in taking out their sadistic ways on children. Still, some do not even realize when they have been hurtful. So, what steps can you take to protect your child from Mister or Miss Mean?

  • Handling adult bullies is a lot like dealing with any other bully:

  • Confront it

  • Adults are always telling kids to ignore bullies. Why? For a one-time, hurtful word or shove, this might work with some bullies. Parents cannot ignore or tolerate this behavior in teachers, who are in a position of trust. They chose this profession because they are supposed to care about kids. When they stop demonstrating that care, parents have a right and responsibility to address the incident after gathering accurate details from all parties or friends involved. Usually a phone call or teacher meeting will resolve it. It will be important here to state facts and not become overly emotional, vengeful or reactive if you really want the best outcome for your child. Using your attorney as a threat is usually not necessary or helpful to the conversation.

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  • Document it

  • Discuss what is happening with your child and write down details relevant to bullying incidents. Open communication in the home is important for kids in all phases, but particularly in the younger, more vulnerable times in their lives. When you visit with a teacher, or if you need to take the issue higher up to the principal or district personnel, you have a legal record. Follow school policy and sound legal advice where necessary. Allow love and professionalism, not anger, to guide the process.

  • Prevent it

  • First, be the kind of parent who never belittles or abuses a child in any way. Communicate with your kids about everything. Empower them to stick up for themselves and others. Personally visit your child’s teacher at the beginning of and volunteer throughout the school year so that the teacher knows that you, as the parent, are aware of what is going on in the classroom. Chaperone at field trips or overnight school activities. Do not allow your child to accept friend requests from teachers on social media websites. Do not allow yourself or your child to bully or threaten a teacher in person or online. Speak out when you know of a bully teacher or principal and act to protect all kids. Unite with parents and compassionate educators to make home and school a safe space for children. No one can prevent all of the harmful things a child will face in this world, but this type of bullying is one that is very preventable and will do a great service to hundreds of children who may possibly endure a verbally, emotionally, or physically abusive teacher.

  • An end to pain

  • No child deserves to be bullied, especially by someone who holds the sacred trust of educating children. No community should tolerate or turn a blind eye to a teacher-oppressor. These steps and the collective voice of parents can help to ensure safer schools. It really is a question of freedom. The Brazilian philosopher, Freire, knew it and liberated the oppressed around him. It was an intellectual and physical release from pain. Isn’t that what our kids are asking for? Isn’t that what they deserve?

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Afton Lambson is an Arizona native with a career in education. He enjoys running marathons and fly-fishing streams and rivers.

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