I’ve witnessed some pretty disgusting behaviour in schools and I’m sad to say it hasn’t always been from the kids. Workplace bullying, anywhere, is abhorrent, but when there are instances of harassment, public belittlement and calculated cruelty involving staff members in an establishment that supposedly exists to nurture and educate young people, I find the hypocrisy breathtaking.
With Anti-Bullying Week almost upon us (see panel), we need to bring this often ignored element of the profession into the open.
You see, we don’t tend to speak up. If you are unfortunate enough to find yourself a victim of a bully it is very easy to internalise the problem, to blame yourself for what is happening because adults are not supposed to behave that way.
Well, they do. The behaviour can take on different guises: constant undermining, aggression, being overly critical, veiled threats, the giving of impossible tasks and so on. If acts like these are systematic, targeted and prolonged, then it is bullying.
Accepting the behaviour for what it is, however, is often a difficult first step. It means acknowledging the ugly truth that someone has taken it upon themselves to do that to you. The bullying may be a reaction to a perceived professional threat (bullies are notoriously insecure). But, to be fair, I don’t care about the motivations of the perpetrator – maybe if they were a Year 9 student I’d look into it.
So what next? I’m aware of how sensitive these situations can be, so what follows is merely a list of suggestions. You may be in a fragile state physically, emotionally or both. Only attempt what you think you can handle.
Keep a record
A written, dated record of the instances of bullying (with names of witnesses, if there are any who are willing to corroborate) can act as both a paper trail of events and a way to reflect on what is happening. Writing about it can help with feelings of self-doubt.
Choosing the right member of staff to report these incidents to is important (sadly, it might be the case that the person you’re supposed to talk to is the one who is doing the bullying – in that case, go above them). It needs to be someone you trust but who has power to act.
Relay information accurately
Try to be consistent and balanced when reporting what has happened. Although this is difficult, it will help to convince the listener that your claims are worth looking into. If you take this approach, there should be no reason why the problem is not addressed.
Escalate if necessary
If the bullying behaviour continues after this then you have a number of other choices to make – all dependent on how strong you feel. Further action can be taken within the school with more senior representatives; outside agencies can be employed on your behalf (such as union representation); or you may decide that leaving is your only option.
Choosing that last suggestion is not fair and it’s not right, but you may feel that removing yourself from the situation is the only way you can move on. Make sure your decision is based on what is right for you.
No one should be put in such a terrible position as a consequence of merely going about their work. Teachers have enough to deal with without the burden of bullying. If you think it is happening to you, try to identify it and address it, but never blame yourself for it.
Tom Starkey is a teacher and writer based in Leeds
Beating the bullies
Anti-Bullying Week takes place from 16-20 November. For more information, visit www.anti-bullyingalliance.org.uk/anti-bullying-week.
To mark the occasion, TES has put together a selection of anti-bullying resources for pupils of all ages: