This is the letter we decided to publish (with a professional’s response below):
Lately I have heard from so many parents how they struggled to undo the damage that was done by a school teacher who degraded or bullied their child.
Now this is a really big problem, because we teach our children to respect older people. So a child can stand up against another child bullying them, but they cannot do anything against a teacher.
Also, the parents are often too afraid to say something, because then the teacher might further victimise the child.
There are programmes running at school teaching children how not to be bullies and what to do if they are bullied or when they witness bullying.
But what can you do if the bullying is done by the teacher?
Last year, at the school that my children were attending, there were five mothers who took their children out of the school due to the way a specific teacher was treating their children.
Nothing happened to the teacher, because she is friends with the principal and his wife. Two of the children are still receiving therapy to recover their personalities.
Now, this year, my child was one of the new victims, and to such an extent that I decided to remove all three of my children from the school.
He came back from school many afternoons in a very sad mood. He started believing he was dumb, because the teacher said so.
The day that my child prayed “Dear God, please help me today and make sure that my teacher will not be mean to me again”, was the day that I removed all three of them from the school
I knew that I would be a bad parent for allowing this to carry on.
I started thinking about all the other people who have told me how their children were emotionally affected. I realise this is a common problem happening in many schools.
I really do not have the perfect advice. I just took my child away from the situation, but still feel sorry for the children left in her class. Who will be the next victim?
And how long should we keep quiet in our country about this? Shall we wait until something serious happens?
So, I think it would be wonderful to have an article to give some guidance to parents on how to manage the situation.
I think awareness will be wonderful, to also make this small number of ‘bad teachers’ aware of what they are doing to the poor children.
Our counsellor responds:
Bullying from teachers is such a difficult situation to deal with. What we teach children to do around bullying – such as walking away, ignoring or telling a teacher or parent – is far more difficult when the bully is a teacher.
Often children fear that they will not be believed – and I have heard of cases where the teacher blames the child’s behaviour or even suggests that the child needs external help. This often leaves parents confused and not sure what to believe.
Most of the research I have done points to moving the child from the school but that is not always possible.
The first thing I would suggest is that the child feels heard and believed by the parent
It takes a lot of courage to open up about being bullied – so they need a lot of emotional support.
I also feel it would be helpful to talk to other parents from the same class. Often this is not an isolated case. Other children also suffer in the same way, or have witnessed the bullying. It is easier to talk to the head of the grade or the principal if you have additional information which has been gathered from others.
When I work with children who have experienced abuse, we put together a safety plan, which includes things like important contact people and suggested coping skills. For example what to do when they feel scared, have bad dreams, feel sad or angry.
I am wondering if something like this would be helpful for the bullied child – firstly by showing them that they are heard and believed, and that someone is “on their side” – as well as helping them cope with the emotions that arise.
I hope that this is helpful. It is really a tricky one – especially as we teach our children to be respectful to adults and one would expect to be able to trust that the teacher has our children’s best interests at heart.
About the author
Marina Galletis is a counsellor who works primarily with women and children, providing individual counselling, support groups and educational workshops.
She also volunteers at Hope House, providing play therapy for younger children, general community counselling to families and individuals as well as co-presenting workshops. Email her on: [email protected]