By: Kathleen Davis, Kelsey McClear & Taylor Wyllie
Editor’s note: This is the first part in a two part series on bullying. The second part focusing on students, will be featured in the Highlander’s next issue. *Names have been changed
The color drained from his face.
Sitting in the cafeteria, the night of conferences, teacher Bob Smith* didn’t know what to do. A parent of one of his students, a “big shot” man who was used to getting what he wanted, sat across from him, pounding on the table, swear words flying from his lips.
“I had no idea what I was supposed to do,” Smith said. “What am I supposed to say to this guy?”
The parent was upset about his daughter’s grade in Smith’s class. Finally, his department head overheard the loud conversation and stepped in.
“He had done the same thing to her geometry teacher two years prior,” Smith said.
According to a Highlander Survey distributed to all Seaholm teachers, parent to teacher bullying is common. 72% of teachers surveyed have experienced an intimidating email or phone call or experienced another means of bullying from parents.
“I have always felt that the only real bullying at Seaholm comes from parents bullying teachers, coaches, building and central administrators,” an anonymous teacher wrote on a survey. “I don’t think our kids are perfect, but I really believe that the vast majority of bullying in this building is directed at us by the parents who don’t get their way.”
PTSA President Rosemary Ricelli Scheidt has never personally seen or heard of a parent bullying a teacher, but she does believe that it exists. She feels, though, that due to the professional nature of the staff and administrators at Seaholm that if such bullying were to occur it’d be handled in a professional way.
“They’re all experienced, sophisticated teachers. So I feel like they could handle it, although a younger teacher could feel bullied by age,” Ricelli Scheidt said. “Seaholm Principle Dee Lancaster and Mrs. Boyer will be right there to problem solve and be behind the teacher.”
In the survey, an anonymous Seaholm staff member said that a parent once said “they pay my salary, so I should give little Johnny an ‘A’, even though he is a ‘C’ student.”
Teachers’ biggest issues with parents usually revolve around a parent wanting their child’s grade changed.
However, parents aren’t the only the ones complaining about their teachers.
According to the survey, 66% of teachers believe that students bully teachers as well.
“Students behave the same way [as parents],” an anonymous teacher said on a survey. “Often [they] will tell personal stories or incidents that they didn’t like and generalize teachers as bad or mean.”
Student George Green* admitted to bullying a teacher he “hated” last year in order to receive a better grade.
“So I just go to him and say I’m not getting this grade,” Green said. “And he’s like I don’t know what to do man, and I’m like dude I can’t get this grade. I have to go to college. And he just changes it to a B+.”
Green, who admitted he would bully his teacher again for a better grade, said he doesn’t think his actions should have consequences.
Currently, teachers are protected under Birmingham’s updated Harassment Policy-3362. Any parent or student who bullies a teacher can be subject to an investigation by the School Board and Superintendent. Consequences will vary according to the Michigan law.
Principal Dee Lancaster, however, believes that it doesn’t have to get this far. If an incident is brought to her attention then she will talk to the perpetrator and it’ll usually stop there.
“I can’t say in my year here or really in my time prior to here I have ever had to address a parent more than once about something that was going on between a teacher and a parent,” Lancaster said.
Teachers aren’t always the victims, sometimes they’re the problems. Sixty four percent of teachers surveyed said they felt victimized by their fellow colleagues.
Specific examples were not listed on the survey, but the impact of teacher on teacher bullying was noted.
“It may look different than student bullying,” an anonymous teacher in a survey said. “But it is just as pervasive and damaging.”