Friday, July 26, 2013

Teachers Can Be Bullies Too

Ok.  I completely buy into the whole positive energy thing and try to remove all negatives from my life whenever possible, but sometimes a subject keeps popping up and gnawing at the back of your mind until you just can't ignore it.  I blame Akevy Greenblatt for sharing Justin Tarte's blog post via Facebook this morning. (LOL. Just kidding. I adore Akevy) Justin Tarte's watch out for 'that group' just won't get out of my head.  You know, "that group" of teachers who are a cross between Mean Girls and the Dementors from Harry Potter.

Then I read an article about Joe Bell whose son, Jadin, killed himself because of the relentless bullying at school for being gay.  The two articles connected in my head-"that group" and bullies.

THEN I watched an episode of New Girl about bullying where this was part of the dialogue:
Jess: I am so sorry, Tanya.
Principal Tanya: Don’t be. I love it! Jess, you’re a real teacher now.
Jess: What?
Principal Tanya: You’re a kid-hater. You’re one of us.

Almost every school district in the nation has something in their mission statements about providing a safe, nurturing environment for students.  How many of these schools consider the behavior of teachers in this statement?

So, let me lay it all out on the table now so that you can see why all of this has struck such a raw nerve in me.

I can't even begin to emphasis enough how, as educators it is imperative that we keep our personal, political and religious beliefs at home.  I live in the deep south where Jesus, the Bible, church, casseroles and strawberry cake are what everyone lives and breathes; right?  Every other day I read about and hear conversations about the need for prayer in our schools.  My question is (and this gets me on the bad side of "that group") whose prayer do we need in school?  Baptist prayer, Catholic prayer, Jewish prayer, Muslim prayer, Mormon prayer, Wiccan prayer?

My earliest memories of school are a nightmare to me.  My family, living in rural Alabama, was one of three families that practiced our religion in our town at the time.  I clearly remember that in first grade a "Christian" prayer was said together over the loud speaker and the teacher would read to us from the Bible.  Because my religion didn't support either of these things, I would have to leave the room during these times.  The teacher treated me with contempt and taking the lead from the teacher, none of the students wanted anything to do with the "strange devil girl".  Certainly that doesn't happen now, you might be thinking to yourself.  Think again.

In just the past week, Carolyn Starkey, president of the Alabama School Library Association, published a blog post regarding book challenges in Alabama's public schools.  This blog post relates to the topic at hand- "that group" and bullies.  I was involved in a challenged book situation this past school year.  In the spirit of transparency (see Gwyneth Jones: Transparency is the New Black) I blogged about the process so that other school librarians in a similar situation could learn along with me.  "That group" emerged and I eventually was pressured to alter and eventually to remove the blog post.  Needless to say, I resigned my position with that district for that and other reasons.  In my search for a new job I encountered a disappointing amount of "disguised" bullying and censorship.  Several school districts I interviewed with made in clear to me that, if hired, it is understood that "we don't put books on our shelves that they  have in New York or California.  You know, about gay people and such because we are a small, conservative town".  Really?  There are no gay students in your schools who may be struggling with their identity and may need to read a book that helps them know that it gets better so they don't end up like Joe Bell's son, Jadin?  And are these school districts whose central office personnel are relaying this message really providing a "safe and nurturing environment" for its students?

Does all this mean that you can't have personal, religious or political beliefs?  Heck no!  I am crazy political (I have a serious, bordering on obsessive crush on Jon Stewart).  I just don't bring that junk to school because of the message of acceptance or judgement it may convey to my students.  I don't put political statement stickers on my car nor do I buy special politically/religiously charged license plates.  If I have a "choose life" plate is the student struggling with an unplanned pregnancy going to confide in me? If I have a Bible sitting on my desk (even if I don't read it out loud in class) is the gay student who is being bullied going to ask me for help?  

While we are on the topic of unspoken messages to students, what about the messages spoken and unspoken we send to our fellow educators?  It's the beginning of the school year and teachers have just received their class rosters.  Have you ever had a teacher come look at your roster and start telling you the good, the bad and the ugly about the kids you have in your class?  Think cliques only happen in high school.  Look around your school--see any teacher cliques?   Have you ever heard teachers talking about other teachers?  Do you exclude other teachers because they don't go to the right church, live in the right neighborhood, wear the right clothes, vote the right way?  Think the kids can't pick up on this?  

I guess the point of this post is to beg you to examine the unspoken messages you send to students on a daily basis.  Kevin Honeycutt in his keynote speech at the Alabama Educational Technology Conference this year broke my heart as he recounted the teacher who let him know without any words that he was unlovable.  Personally, I think his speech should be required viewing for every teacher in the country.  

As an Alabama educator am I concerned about the blow back this post may generate? Yep. But if this post can help even one child I can live with it.


  1. Great post, Nikki! This should be required reading!

    I recently blogged on Lady Gaga, Twitter, & Haters- It's really important to exercise empathy - that means with kiddos, bullies, & teachers, too! I also blogged about "Dear Queer Teen - It gets better" last year & am so happy to see another librarian daring to support kids no matter the political or social climate. After all, it's all about the kiddos!
    Cheers dear!
    ~Gwyneth Jones
    The Daring Librarian

  2. Wow, Nikki, this is an incredible post! It's definitely one of those topics that's difficult to address and deal with, but we need to do it! I agree with Gwyneth...this should be required reading.

  3. Replies
    1. Saw it on FB tonight so had to pop out and read.

  4. I just want to give you a high five and hug right now. What a powerful post, the longer I teach the more I feel this way too.

  5. I am so sorry I missed this post back when you first wrote it. Thanks so much for tweeting about it now, Nikki. You are so right that we all need to work to provide an accepting, welcoming environment for ALL our students and do everything we can to overcome the influence of teachers or anyone else who compromises that.