STARS logo


Teacher and Student Bullying Is A Delicate Issue – by Rodger Dinwiddie


“Alex Merritt was not used to being the butt of jokes” according to a “Newsweek” 2009 issue. He was a student enrolled in a part-time vocational program and was tormented with comments about being gay or as those who were making his life miserable said, “Alex’s fence swings both ways. Alex’s boat floats in a different direction than the rest of the guys in the class.”  This took place in 2007 and as the year progressed the taunts worsened. What really makes this juvenile behavior so unusual is Merritt’s bullies, who allegedly made all of these remarks, were his teachers. Newsweek reported the teachers denied the allegations. 

The subject of teachers bullying students and the issue of students bullying teachers is delicate. As a trainer and consultant to schools implementing programs and strategies to deal with bullying, this is an issue that regularly surfaces during training. Adult bullying of students comes up among school personnel at all grade levels. Students bullying teachers is generally reserved for middle and high schools, though in my experience there have been cases of very disruptive elementary age children who have bullied their teachers.  Perhaps this is not that difficult to believe.

Researchers from the University of Washington and Indiana University found that children who were exposed to violence in the home engaged in higher levels of physical bullying than youngsters who were not witnesses to such behavior. The establishment of a strong connection between family violence and bullying isn’t all that difficult to accept.  According to the researchers “Children develop a mindset when they see how parents deal with problems. It is a script based on early observations in the home.”

In my experience, adults bullying students usually raises the most concern.  Alan McElvoy, Wittenberg University, has conducted research about bullying among teachers and adults in schools.  He defined adult bullying of students as “conduct rooted in a power differential, that threatens, harms, humiliates, induces fear, or causes students substantial emotional distress.” He points out that there are similarities to student-on-student, or peer-on-peer bullying, that include the abuse of power, a chronic/repeated pattern of behavior over a period of time, behavior that is expressed publicly and is a form of humiliation. The behavior is degrading to the students in front of their peers, and the identity of the student is often ridiculed.

From McElvoy’s research it appears that those students who are bullied by adults are chosen because of their vulnerability and because they are often not well defended from these attacks by their peer group. When confronted about their bullying adults sometimes justify their abusive behavior stating that they were provoked, or that they use this type of “behavior” as a sort of pseudo “Motivation”- or a “Part of Instruction.”  As McElvoy states, “Deliberate humiliation never serves a legitimate purpose.”

One of the services that STARS offers is in-depth training for schools designed to address bullying in all its forms. It makes no difference whether it’s peer-on-peer or adult-student, bullying poses a threat to the well being of everyone.  Check out our home page for more info on being a part of the solution.

STARS is deeply committed to creating a culture and work space that centers on the power of relationships, that values diversity of perspective and experience, and that honors the dignity, worth, and contributions of all.